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'People's Great Salt Lake Summit' seeks to push elected leaders to do more

Posted at 3:11 PM, Jul 07, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — The tour boats are back on the Great Salt Lake, a welcome sign of increased water levels thanks to a record-breaking snowfall.

But environmentalists warn it is too early to declare victory.

"The problem still exists," said Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We’re at this point, notwithstanding the very wet winter we had, where the lake is going to start to drop again."

Seed is among those organizing the "People's Great Salt Lake Summit" at Salt Lake Community College in Sandy on July 15. It will bring together conservation groups, community leaders and members of the public to discuss issues facing the Great Salt Lake and potential solutions.

"If we lose the Great Salt Lake? Our quality of life will be horrible and this place we love will be unlivable," Seed said in an interview with FOX 13 News on Friday. "It will be catastrophic. I think everyone agrees on that. The question is how do we solve the problem?"

The Great Salt Lake dropped to its lowest level in recorded history last year as a result of years of drought, water diversion and a changing climate. The threats from a shrinking lake are real with toxic dust storms, disappearing and dying wildlife and impacts to Utah's economy.

The situation surrounding the lake has alarmed the public and policymakers alike. The Utah State Legislature reacted by passing a series of water conservation bills and spending a billion dollars over the last two years. A lot of that is aimed at reducing water demand in agriculture and residential use.

But Seed said elected leaders can — and should — be doing more to reverse the Great Salt Lake's declines.

"We need to hold our elected officials feet to the fire, so to speak. They cannot stop. We are a little concerned during the last legislative session, some legislators were saying, 'Oh, nature has provided. The problem is not as serious as we thought,'" she said.

Utah did experience a winter with record-breaking snowfall that helped the Great Salt Lake. The lake rose about 5 1/2 feet from its historic low and it is now declining again because of hotter temperatures and more water diversions upstream.

Political leaders, including the newly-appointed Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed, have cautioned this past winter cannot be viewed as the norm. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who has pushed legislation to protect the lake, suggested in a statement to FOX 13 News that they are not done.

"I'm thrilled to see Utahns taking an interest in the Great Salt Lake. We’ve made progress but still have a long way to go. Protecting and preserving the Great Salt Lake will take a continuous effort for many years from government, the private sector, and all individual Utahns," he said when asked for comment on the summit.

The People's Great Salt Lake Summit will discuss topics ranging from health and wildlife to agriculture and legislative action. Seed said it will also serve to get more people involved in pressing elected leaders to do more for the Great Salt Lake. Some environmental groups have felt the legislature did not go far enough with bills on the lake this year and are renewing calls for a target elevation goal for the lake of 4,200 feet (the lake currently is at 4,193.7 feet).

"Our community movement, our citizen movement is about making sure that they keep at it, because elected officials tend to follow the path of least resistance and this is a very challenging problem," she said. "The easy thing is to say, 'Oh don’t worry about it, it’s going to be fine.' The evidence is no, it’s not going to be fine, and the consequences are you and your children and me and mine are not going to be able to live here if we don’t solve this problem."

More information on the People's Great Salt Lake Summit can be found here.

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.