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SLC explores gifting millions of gallons of water to the Great Salt Lake

Posted at 1:57 PM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 23:42:27-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — In an effort to save the Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City officials are proposing a massive donation of water.

"The impacts of a shrinking Great Salt Lake have a profound possible effect to Salt Lake City’s residents," said Laura Briefer, the director of Salt Lake City's Department of Public Utilities.

The city needs to build a new wastewater treatment plant because the current one is at the end of its lifespan. When the $800 million project is completed, Briefer said, the city is considering donating the effluence from the new treatment plant to the Great Salt Lake.

"I really think the best use for that treated wastewater is to continue to go to Farmington Bay, to maintain flows to the Great Salt Lake," Briefer said in an interview with FOX 13 News on Friday. "With changes in state policy, that is more possible for Salt Lake City, because we can assign water rights that are associated with the water that’s being treated to have a commitment to flows to the Great Salt Lake."

Typically, the city might try to get a return on its investment and sell the water for irrigation or other uses, Briefer said. But this would be dedicated to the lake.

It's not a small amount, either. Currently, Salt Lake City's wastewater treatment plant processes about 33 million gallons of water a day.

Briefer floated the idea at Friends of Great Salt Lake's three-day summit on the health and future of the lake. The event has brought together scientists, environmentalists and political leaders to talk about the problems facing the lake and come up with solutions.

Lynn de Freitas, Friends of Great Salt Lake's executive director, said the donation would be big.

"To actually have a commitment from Salt Lake City, to say we want to commit our water right for our discharge to the lake is like, thank you so much," she said. "It’s the tooth fairy! It’s bigger than that!"

It won't solve all the lake's problems, but it can help. Briefer said one reason it's even possible is because Salt Lake City residents have been stepping up and conserving water in big numbers.

"Water customers have done a really great job on water conservation. Last year, they responded to the drought and saved over two billion gallons of water. This year, as I’m monitoring water use, we’re even exceeding last year’s conservation."

The Great Salt Lake is projected to hit a new historic low this year. The impacts of diversion, population, drought and climate change have taken a toll. A dried up lake presents a significant crisis for the state and its residents. There is declining snowpack, toxic dust storms and billions in lost economic benefits.

"If we lose the Great Salt Lake, that’s a significant drain economically, ecologically on this state," said Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, who has been attending the summit.

This year, the Utah State Legislature passed a series of water conservation bills and appropriated at least $40 million to try to get more water into the Great Salt Lake. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, built off an idea environmental groups tried by securing water rights for the lake itself. The law passed allows water rights to be borrowed or rented out to go into the lake.

Speaker Wilson told FOX 13 News on Thursday he intended to push for more bills and funding for the lake in the next legislative session.

Rep. Snider said he is working on some bills.

"I’m hoping to be able to take some of this here and some of the experts that are in this room and hopefully craft some meaningful legislation," he told FOX 13 News.

As the summit wrapped up, de Freitas urged all Utahns to do their part to help protect the lake.

"One of the things we can all do today is be more mindful of how we use water," she said. "Outdoor watering, the reduction of that, to increase conservation efforts is an easy thing for all of us to integrate."