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Environmentalists seek to elevate the Great Salt Lake in local policy decisions

Posted at 3:46 PM, Jul 28, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — There is a new push to protect the Great Salt Lake by elevating the lake itself in local policy decisions.

The environmental group Save Our Great Salt Lake is planning to ask city councils in communities all around the Great Salt Lake to pass a resolution that would have local governments consider impacts to the lake in its planning and ordinances. The idea is to give the lake itself a voice in local government, Save Our Great Salt Lake co-founder Chandler Rosenberg told FOX 13 News on Friday.

"Rather than treating nature as something we can use, abuse and exploit? Recognizing that nature has an inherent value and a right to exist," Rosenberg said. "In the case of the Great Salt Lake, we’re trying to say the lake deserves a healthy ecosystem, it deserves a healthy lake level."

The resolution declares that people and animals have the right to a sustainable, healthy natural environment.

"These rights shall be a primary consideration in all city actions and decisions that concern or may impact the Lake, including, but not limited to, actions and decisions relating to water quality, consumption, and use," it says.

The resolution, which is largely symbolic, encourages cities to appoint someone to speak for the lake and the Great Salt Lake watershed in policy decisions, as well as solicit public input on what a city can do to protect the lake and its watershed.

In an interview with FOX 13 News on Friday, Salt Lake City Council Chair Darin Mano said he was intrigued by the resolution.

"I'm eager to look at anything that might come towards us that can help us in that effort," he said of protecting the Great Salt Lake.

Salt Lake City has been pursuing its own initiatives to help the Great Salt Lake, including its public utilities department gifting millions of gallons of water to the lake instead of having it diverted for other uses. Mayor Erin Mendenhall is also working to set aside land to act as a buffer zone between encroaching development and the Great Salt Lake.

Alarmed by the harms of a shrinking Great Salt Lake (including toxic dust storms, reduced snowpack, environmental impacts to public health and wildlife) the Utah State Legislature has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and passed bills aimed at water conservation and protecting it, including having impacts to the lake be considered in future developments. Governor Spencer Cox issued an order blocking new water diversions to protect the lake.

"I think that’s a step in the right direction, but we’d like to see greater protections," Rosenberg said of the legislature's efforts. "Especially one that protects a healthy lake level and protects a healthy ecosystem."

Save Our Great Salt Lake's resolution is part of a larger effort the group is pursuing called the "rights of nature." The concept is to give nature legal protections on par with humans. The group said it would like to see the idea considered on Utah's Capitol Hill for the Great Salt Lake.

In an interview with FOX 13 News in 2022, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, expressed some agreement with Save Our Great Salt Lake on the idea of the lake having its own water rights. Recently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated some of its water rights to a trust created by the legislature with the goal of getting water into the lake.

"We have to address not only the solutions that are going to get water to the lake in the short term, but also the thinking that got us here in the first place," Rosenberg said. "That the lake and nature is something to be exploited and used and abused. If we don’t change that thinking and have a larger paradigm shift? We're going to continue to have issues."

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.