January 05, 2023

Salt Lake Tribune: Great Salt Lake set to vanish in 5 years, experts warn Utah lawmakers

Utah has months to reverse the lake’s decline before it’s too late, according to a dire report.

By Leia Larsen  | Jan. 5, 2023, 6:00 a.m. | Updated: 8:26 a.m.

Click here to read the full article on the Salt Lake Tribune website.

Days before Utah lawmakers are set to convene, dozens of researchers are calling on them to take bold action and save the Great Salt Lake before it withers away.

An emergency briefing released Thursday warns of “unprecedented” danger to Utah’s public health, environment and economy if the lake does not receive a “dramatic” influx of water by 2024. The lake has already hit record-low elevations for two years in a row, exposing 60% of its lakebed which continues to dry into a toxic source of dust pollution. Excessive water use in the Great Salt Lake’s basin means the lake is set to disappear in the next five years, the report warns.

“The decisions we make in the coming few months will affect our community and ecosystems across the hemisphere,” said Ben Abbott, a professor of Aquatic Ecology at Brigham Young University and lead author of the briefing, in a news release.

Scientists and conservationists with Westminster College, Friends of Great Salt Lake, the University of Alberta, Utah State University, Wasatch High School, Utah Valley University, Great Salt Lake Audubon and more co-authored the study.

The Utah Legislature took some of its biggest conservation measures to date last session in an effort to save the Great Salt Lake. They took a helicopter tour of its massive exposed lakebed and approved a $40 million trust to secure water rights and improve habitat for the lake. They funneled millions toward mandatory secondary water metering. They revised the state’s pioneer-era water laws to allow farmers to lease their water rights and use them to benefit environmental interests like the Great Salt Lake.

In recent months, Gov. Spencer Cox closed the lake’s watershed to new water rights. His latest budget proposal calls for $132.9 million to help the lake specifically, along with another $217.9 million for statewide water conservation.

But lake researchers and advocates say it’s not enough.

The briefing calls on the governor to take emergency action to save the Great Salt Lake, including a requirement that 2.5 million acre-feet reach it each year until waters rise to a sustainable elevation.

Lawmakers also need to set aside a significant amount of money to ensure all the recent policies they’ve adopted lead to water making it all the way to the lake, according to the report. The agriculture industry has so far expressed reluctance about fallowing fields and leasing water, even as state leaders constantly tout those measures as winning solutions for the Great Salt Lake.

And, the briefing adds, conservation efforts need to be far more aggressive by every water user in the Great Salt Lake’s watershed. Attempts to date have delivered just a drop of what it needs to recover.

Click here to continue reading this article on the Salt Lake Tribune website.