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Utah's political leaders urge more action on drought, saving the Great Salt Lake

Posted at 3:10 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 19:40:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Faced with the prospect of more reservoirs running dry in the state's ongoing drought emergency and the Great Salt Lake hitting a new historic low, Utah's political leaders continued to urge conservation.

On Wednesday, FOX 13 News reported the Department of Natural Resources was warning of several reservoirs in central and southern Utah that may go dry soon in the drought.

"We've known and they’ve known for some time those reservoirs are at a tipping point," Governor Spencer Cox acknowledged at his monthly news conference. The governor said the reservoirs — including Gunnison, Piute and Upper Enterprise — primarily will impact agriculture producers. However, he said, all Utahns will be impacted by drought and urged continued water conservation.

"We know we can do this. We know we can do it because we did it last year," he told reporters. "We’re starting with that knowledge already, that as we move into the watering season, that people are already cutting back on their lawns, farmers are cutting back significantly on irrigation when it comes to their crops. That’s going to help us get through what could potentially be a very dry summer."

Utah is already in drought conditions, but not as extreme as last year. Still, the projections are bleak. Local water districts have already started imposing water restrictions. The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which covers a large part of northern Utah, is asking residential customers to cut indoor water use by 10%.

Of concern to politicians, environmentalists and scientists is the shrinking Great Salt Lake. It is projected to drop another two feet or more this year. That has alarmed everyone because of the environmental and economic crisis it poses for air quality, snowpack, wildlife and people.

Speaking at a summit hosted by the environmental group Friends of Great Salt Lake, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said more must be done to get water into the lake. The Speaker warned that the state must reassess some of its water policies and those discussions might make some nervous.

"We have to make sure the interests of the lake have equal footing with all the other water interests in the state," Speaker Wilson told FOX 13 News in an interview afterward. "We can’t leave it to just luck that the Great Salt Lake is healthy. We’ve got to have a strategy, a plan and everybody’s got to be working together towards that."

The Republican House Speaker was actually praised by environmentalists at Thursday's summit for his efforts to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake. He personally sponsored a bill that will spend $40 million to try to get more water into the lake and has pushed other bills that would help the lake and water conservation overall. Those measures, which passed the legislature in March, are just being implemented now.

Speaker Wilson told FOX 13 News to expect more legislation to help the Great Salt Lake.

"I think we intend to have another strong agenda from a policy standpoint and you’ll also see a very aggressive appropriations request coming for the lake," he said.

But Gov. Cox seemed to pour water on an unusual idea being proposed by some in the Utah State Legislature. FOX 13 News first reported on Tuesday the Legislative Water Development Commission authorized a study on the feasibility of a pipeline to pump water from the Pacific Ocean across California, Nevada and into the Great Salt Lake. Lawmakers defended the idea as something that ought to be considered while environmentalists have been stunned by the idea.

While the governor acknowledged they ought to look at a number of options, he told reporters he had other priorities.

"Certainly that’s a pipe dream of sorts. Literally and figuratively," he said. "If that were to happen we're talking many, many years into the future. Our focus is on what we can do now and that is a real focus on conservation."