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Utah's governor says more must be done to save the Great Salt Lake

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 19:49:32-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Governor Spencer Cox said more action will be taken to help save the Great Salt Lake, which continues to drop to new lows.

"Should we have started earlier? Probably. But we are where we are now," he said. "And and we've got the momentum moving forward to make a big difference."

Utah's governor spoke with the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a partnership of news and nonprofit organizations raising awareness about the shrinking lake and ways to save it. FOX 13 News is a member of the collaborative.

"I think that there's more that we have to do," he said. "You're going to see several bills this year, we're working on those right now. We're in discussions about what those will look like, how we can get more funding, how we can move up some of the some of the projects that we have slated to do."

FOX 13 News first reported earlier this month the Great Salt Lake dropped to a new historic low going all the way back to 1847. The shrinking Great Salt Lake poses a significant environmental crisis with diminished snowpack (which feeds the water supply), impacts to wildlife and increased potential for toxic dust storms to hit heavily populated areas. The lake is shrinking because of many factors including the ongoing drought and climate change and water diversion for development.

Alarmed by the lake's decline, the Utah State Legislature funded water conservation measures including a half-billion for things like secondary water metering and agriculture optimization. Those are just being rolled out. The legislature also gave $40 million to the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy with the sole goal of either leasing or buying water rights for the lake itself.

Gov. Cox said Utahns deserve credit for conserving water in the ongoing mega-drought.

"People are getting the point, they're they're starting to understand," he said. "They're making those conscious decisions to change the way that they they water their lawns... they use that water in in more productive ways. And getting three million people to change that paradigm is is tough, but we're getting there."

Asked about agriculture, a top water user in the state, the governor — who is also a farmer — said that industry has had to make cuts, too.

"When we're in a drought situation, nobody loses more water than agriculture. We had a 75% reduction last year," Gov. Cox said. "I don't know anybody that took a 75% reduction on their lawns or 75% reduction in their drinking water, you know, 75% reduction in the in their water usage at their home. So agriculture is always the first to cut."

The governor argued that agriculture might not be the biggest problem facing the Great Salt Lake, but population is.

"You could also eliminate 75% of the farms in the state and none of that water goes to the Great Salt Lake, right? None of that has anything to do with the with the Salt Lake Valley. The problem in the Salt Lake Valley isn't farming or agriculture, right? It's the number of people that we have that are moving here. So it's it's different," he said.

As the state races to reverse the Great Salt Lake's declines, lawmakers on Utah's Capitol Hill have floated some unusual ideas to get more water into the lake. One would be a pipeline to pump water from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake. It's something environmental groups have labeled "asinine" in the face of more immediate measures like conservation.

Gov. Cox said he was skeptical of the pipeline.

"I'm very dubious. However, I think we owe it to everyone to look at every possibility out there," he said. "You know, 'What can we do?' Let's think outside the box."

The idea of a pipeline is included in Utah Senator Mitt Romney's new bill in Congress that allocates $10 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate water availability and explore ways to get more water to the Great Salt Lake. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the senator said it should at least be considered.

"If the climate continues to give us drought, I think you want to evaluate as many options as you can. I don't know whether that one is feasible or ridiculous, given the fact that it hasn't been studied before," he said.

But restoring the Great Salt Lake will not be cheap.

"I believe the solutions are going to cost in the many billions of dollars," Sen. Romney 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.