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Cox promotes bills aimed at water conservation and saving the Great Salt Lake

Posted at 5:15 PM, Apr 25, 2023

LAYTON, Utah — At a wetland preserve on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, Governor Spencer Cox held a bill signing ceremony to call attention to legislation aimed at water conservation and protecting the lake.

On Tuesday, the governor said the good news is the state is in 7% drought and lake levels have risen thanks to an amazing snowpack. Now, the state is on guard for flooding.

"What we’ve been doing is releasing water from reservoirs during this cold time," he said, adding that it allows the state to prepare as snow starts to melt.

But Gov. Cox said that while slowly rising temperatures have been good so far, "if we start to get into the 80s, mid-80s in northern Utah, that’s when it gets dicey."

The Great Salt Lake has risen nearly four feet as of Monday. But it is still six feet below what is considered a healthy level. But Gov. Cox said legislation like those he was calling attention to are designed to help Utah in the long-term.

"If this is just a reprieve in a longer drought, then we need to take advantage of this reprieve in a very big way," he told FOX 13 News.

The bills include creating a "Great Salt Lake czar" to oversee efforts to save the lake. There's $200 million to help agriculture producers — the state's top water user — to switch to water-saving technologies. It will help a lot, said Ron Gibson, the head of the Utah Farm Bureau, which represents the state's agriculture producers

"The agricultural infrastructure from water is ancient in our state," he told FOX 13 News. "It’s time that we invest the future of agriculture, the future of Utah."

The governor also signed bills to create a new public awareness campaign called "Utah Water Ways," focused on conservation. He even signed bills to create a special Great Salt Lake license plate as a fundraiser for saving the water body, and a bill that elementary school students lobbied for to designate the brine shrimp the official state crustacean.

"We’re hoping that it will bring more awareness so people use less and less water so we can have more water go into the Great Salt Lake," said sixth grader Max Bridge.

There are also bills to expand incentives to persuade Utahns to ditch nonfunctional turf in their yards in favor of desert-friendly landscaping, and prohibiting HOAs from requiring lush, green lawns.

"Changing forever the way we incentivized people to use water, overuse water, now there’s an incentive to use less water. That’s a big deal," Gov. Cox said.

Candice Hasenyager, the head of Utah's Division of Water Resources, said all of the legislation will help.

"When we look at the big picture, being able to reduce how much water we use in every sector and being able to conserve it for a variety of uses, including Great Salt Lake, is really important," she said.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.