This article from the Salt Lake Tribune is published through The Great Salt Lake Collaborative: A Solutions Journalism Initiative, a partnership of news, education and media organizations that aims to inform readers about the Great Salt Lake.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Not every initiative to help bolster water levels in the drying Great Salt Lake is coming out of Utah.
A pair of federal measures driven by Utah’s delegation to Washington, D.C., and aimed at safeguarding the lake, now at its lowest-ever recorded level, are also edging ahead.
A measure in the U.S. House put forward by U.S. Rep. Blake Moore — the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act — passed in the House on Friday. Another plan introduced by U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney passed in the Senate on Thursday. Both call for study of the Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the Great Basin with an eye to identification of possible measures to keep them from drying up.
“The Great Salt Lake is a quandary and it’s a big problem how low it is right now. It’s getting worse and worse. We’ve got to take an all-of-the-above approach,” Moore told the Standard-Examiner. That is, every effort to help the Great Salt Lake counts and should be considered, in his view.
Moore’s measure, which received unanimous backing last November from the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, allocates $5 million for study of the Great Salt Lake and other Great Basin saline lakes by the U.S. Geological Survey. Romney’s measure calls for allocation of $10 million for study of the saline lakes in the Great Basin by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Great Basin extends into portions of Utah, Nevada, California and Oregon.
The work of the two lawmakers “perfectly complements our work with the Utah legislature to make historic changes to state water law and dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to save the Great Salt Lake and improve water conservation throughout Utah,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement after Moore’s measure passed.
Romney said Thursday that passage of his measure, the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act, “highlights the sense of urgency that is needed if we are going to preserve and protect this critical body of water for many generations to come.”
Not everyone is jumping up and down, though, as the parallel measures wind through Congress.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, an advocacy group that calls for conservation of the state’s waterways, laments that Utah politicos have done too much talking about conserving the Great Salt Lake and not enough acting.
“The idea that we need another study to take action is kind of ludicrous,” he said. “We are acting like we don’t know what to do. It’s pretty damn simple — the lake needs water.”
Despite talk among Utah’s leaders of safeguarding the Great Salt Lake and trying to boost its water level, he doesn’t see concrete steps in that direction. “It’s so obvious — the lake has not been protected,” he said.
Moore, though, touted the import of a “data-driven” approach to salvaging the Great Salt Lake.
“This study will provide that framework for what can be hopefully a consensus-driven effort going forward,” he said. “It’s a small investment to make sure that we get some good data to continue on the efforts that the (Utah) state Legislature and the governor are already working on.”
Likewise, Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said Moore’s measure would help bolster understanding of the Great Salt Lake and how to protect it.
Romney, for his part, said the Senate measure would look into possible technological fixes to redirect water to the lake, including pipelines and canal reinforcement.
Next, both measures need support from the opposite congressional chambers. Reps. Chris Stewart, Burgess Owens and John Curtis, Utah GOPers, will lead the companion legislation to Romney’s measure in the House.
Moore, meantime, said he’s been working with other members of Congress to muster support. The plight of the Great Salt Lake isn’t necessarily front and center to others outside Utah, even if it’s a huge topic within Utah.
“Not that many members of Congress understand what’s going on with the Great Salt Lake,” Moore said.
Though both measures call for study of saline lakes across the Great Basin, Moore said the Great Salt Lake’s future is the impetus behind his measure, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat.
“I just know this was the driving force to make this initiative happen. A lot of the advocacy groups recognized the Great Salt Lake and its importance. This was a key driver for making this whole bill happen,” he said.