SALT LAKE CITY — One of House Speaker Brad Wilson's constituents is the Great Salt Lake.
"A little known secret: I represent about half of the Great Salt Lake in the fighting 15th," he said in an interview with FOX 13, referencing his district number.
Speaker Wilson, R-Kaysville, will convene a summit in January focused on ways to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake, which has hit a record low level. It's now a foot below the last recorded low, set in 1963.
The Great Salt Lake, a massive water body and a critical part of northern Utah's ecosystem, is now in danger. Climate change, drought and water diversion has had a significant impact. The receding waters threaten wildlife and people living around it — dust storms will increase, lake effect snow can diminish and the exposed lake bed itself has toxins in it.
"Everyone in the state recognizes the important, the really important impact the lake has on our climate, on our economy, on our quality of life and there’s some risks that we need to be aware of," Speaker Wilson said.
Who will participate in the January 5 summit is still being determined, but the Speaker's office is sending out "save the date" cards. Lynn De Freitas of the environmental group Friends of Great Salt Lake said she would love to be included.
"I commend Speaker Wilson for taking the initiative to plan something like this," she told FOX 13.
But De Freitas said she wanted to see concrete plans come out of any summit.
"I’m all for it. It’s definitely needed. We definitely need to identify ways we can address the dire straits of the Great Salt Lake reaching its historic low," she said. "What I’m hoping will come from the summit is specific, action items that will be implemented in a timely manner. Whereby in short order early in 2022, we have an opportunity to really do something meaningful for the lake regarding its needs of water and getting that system back into a viable state of productivity and longevity."
Environmentalists have ratcheted up pressure on lawmakers to act to save the Great Salt Lake. A half-dozen activists protested earlier this week at a water hearing on Utah's Capitol Hill, demanding immediate action to protect the lake. Lawmakers are expected to take up a number of bills in the upcoming session addressing water rights and getting water into the lake itself.
Speaker Wilson told FOX 13 that efforts to save the Great Salt Lake will take years.
"I think you will hear a lot of conversation about conservation, about water rights, about agriculture, about different strategies we can use," he said. "And the importance of getting serious about this in ways we haven’t in the past."