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Utah lawmakers consider a pipeline from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake

Posted at 8:57 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 00:13:12-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — A legislative commission is floating the idea of a pipeline to bring water from the Pacific Ocean into the Great Salt Lake.

"There’s a lot of water in the ocean and we have very little in the Great Salt Lake," said Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, who co-chairs the Legislative Water Development Commission.

At a meeting Tuesday, the commission authorized a study of the idea — along with a number of other water measures — while acknowledging it does seem like an unusual idea.

When FOX 13 News asked commission co-chair Rep. Joel Ferry if they were actually serious about the idea, he replied: "Oh no, we’re dead serious about this. I mean, Ben, desperate times call for desperate measures and all options are on the table."

The study would look at the cost to actually create a pipeline from the Pacific Ocean, across California and the Sierra-Nevada mountains, across the deserts of Nevada and ultimately into the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

"It’s just an idea," cautioned Sen. Hinkins in an interview with FOX 13 News. "Other countries are doing it to fill their lakes because of the drought situations. We ought to know if there’s a feasibility or even if we’ll get right of ways for that sort of stuff, but get an idea of how much it’ll cost."

The idea, the commission chairs acknowledged, could cost billions (to say nothing of whether other states would even allow such a thing).

As FOX 13 News first reported in April, The Great Salt Lake is projected to hit a new historic low this year. Utah is currently in a state of emergency for drought. The massive lake is shrinking as a result of water diversion, development, drought and climate change. A dried-up lake presents a massive environmental crisis for Utah with toxic dust storms (there is arsenic in the lake bed), a lack of snowpack and billions of dollars in lost economic impact to the state.

"Our entire way of life in northern Utah is impacted by a declining lake," Rep. Ferry warned. "We’ve instituted and put in place significant conservation measures, but it’s not going to be enough and so we need to look at other options and one of those options is importing water from the Pacific Ocean."

While members of the commission were supportive of the concept, others were skeptical. Asked about the idea after the meeting, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, sighed loudly and said: "Why don't we try water conservation?"

Beyond the feasibility of it, Rep. Briscoe said he had concerns about the cost to taxpayers.

"I thought we were a state that respected frugality and efficiency," he said. "There’s no way you’re going to be able to afford pumping saline water from the Pacific to Utah."

The Alliance for a Better Utah, a left-leaning policy group, was critical of the idea.

"Lawmakers should be spending more time and resources on water conservation policies, and less time on boondoggles like more dams and unnecessary pipelines. Across the board — individuals, industries, agriculture, etc. — we’re using too much water as a state and we need to conserve this precious resource," said Chase Thomas, the group's director.

The Utah State Legislature has advanced a number of water conservation bills and House Speaker Brad Wilson this year personally sponsored a bill spending $40 million to support efforts to get more water into the lake, such as environmental groups leasing or buying water rights for the Great Salt Lake itself.

While it was the most unusual, the Great Salt Lake pipeline concept was not the only idea advanced by the commission on Tuesday. Other projects include water re-use, exploring ways to address declining water levels at Lake Powell, the amount of water Utah gets from the Bear River, a pipeline study for the Green River, agricultural optimization, rural water metering, aquifer storage and more water conservation measures.

"The cost to do nothing is more," said Rep. Ferry.