Spring 2014: Resolution of Appreciation of Great Salt Lake is Well Deserved for a Lake that Continues to Contribute to our Culture, our Community and our Consciousness

“I want to learn more about it and share what is there with my children and grandchildren that I’m sure don’t know. And probably write down some of the stories of [my husband’s] family that have lived out there.”

-Focus group participant in Carla Koons Trentleman’s Ph.D dissertation Place Attachment

Among Neighbors of Great Salt Lake and Its Environs, May, 2009

One gratifying outcome of the 2014 General Session of the Utah Legislature is H.J.R. 20:

Joint Resolution Recognizing the Significance of The Great Salt Lake. It was shepherded through the legislative gauntlet by Chief Sponsor Representative Larry B. Wiley (House District 31, Salt Lake) and Senate Sponsor Jerry W. Stevenson (Senate District 21, Davis). Please remember to thank them. A copy of the resolution “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED” (and suitably engrossed, I hope) will be sent to the Utah Department of Natural Resources and the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council.

Kudos to everyone involved in crafting this formal expression replete with “WHEREAS”es that speaks to the broad and significant range of economic, hemispheric, and cultural attributes that our Lake provides for all of us. Special big briny hugs for everyone who took time from their busy lives to trek to the Hill to speak on the Lake’s behalf. The Lake was heard.

It’s a small but significant gesture for a Lake that keeps on giving to the people of Utah, the hemisphere, and the world. To wit: the economic significance of Great Salt Lake to Utah’s annual GDP is $1.3B. It employs over 7,000 Utahns and annually generates over $375M of labor income. It is home to significant hemispheric and global populations of birds that rest, stage, and nest there. The wetlands of Great Salt Lake account for 75 percent of all wetlands in the State of Utah, whose total land area consists of only 1.5 percent wetlands. In 1991, Great Salt Lake was designated as one of only five Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Sites in the lower 48 States. All five bays of the Lake have been identified as Important Bird Areas by the National Audubon Society because of significant bird use. The Lake’s natural beauty has drawn thousands to make artistic interpretations of its elements, including two landmark earthworks: the Spiral Jetty and the Sun Tunnels. Even Brigham Young swam in the Lake three days after the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. (Borrowed directly from the GSL Resolution of Appreciation).

Now that’s what I call the true spirit of giving.

But what makes this gesture an extraordinary one is that most Utahns dismiss Great Salt Lake as something that’s just “out there”. It’s stinky, buggy, and salty.  It’s a cheap and convenient place for industrial discharges. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that many people think that any water that ends up in the Lake is considered wasted. Clearly it’s a misunderstood resource that’s not often regarded as the treasure it is. Preserving and protecting Great Salt Lake for the future is a far-fetched idea to a large portion of the population throughout the state. Just like good jazz, it’s an acquired taste. But definitely one we have to cultivate in our growing population.

“…maybe we have to learn, maybe you have to learn to appreciate and grow up with those experiences because I don’t think there’s very many people that hadn’t lived out here and could express those same feelings. You get visitors out there, they’d don’t like anything about it. It’s a dead lake to them, it stinks, there’s bugs. So maybe you have to learn, you know, by living there and experiencing some of those things, to appreciate it.”--Weber focus group participant - Trentleman study

Bingo! It is all about learning. Learning about why this dry and scratchy lakescape matters. And why this stunning remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville is a sacred place to the people who came before us. At the same time, funding for research to gather more empirical data about what makes this ecosystem tick needs to continue so we can make sound management decisions for the system today and tomorrow. We owe the Lake our commitment of stewardship for its future so we can continue to honor this place as a refuge for the visionaries who settled the valley and the architects who designed Great Salt Lake City on its shores.

“That’s our name to fame. If someone says, ‘where do you live?’ and I say, ‘Have you heard of the Great Salt Lake,’ I don’t care if I’m in Nebraska, or where I’m at, ‘Have you ever heard of the Great Salt Lake?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I live about three miles from the Great Salt Lake.’ They know where you’re at.” --Weber focus group participant – Trentleman Study

As the renowned writer and painter, Alfred Lambourne, said, “Under certain conditions a place becomes a part of us; we own it.” That is indeed the case with the Lake.

In tandem with the GSL Resolution of Appreciation, another valuable outcome from the legislative session was the approval of $400,000 to fully fund the development of the Great Salt Lake Integrated Water Resource Management Model (IWRMM). This is fantastic news!

Conceived and recommended by Governor Herbert’s Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, and championed by many of us who recognize the importance of having a good water model that focuses its analysis on Great Salt Lake, the IWRMM would serve as an indispensable tool that will enhance decisions that address issues related to future water supply, salinity and Lake level. These factors have a direct affect on the economics, public health, and ecological viability of the system.

The model will take two years to develop. Stakeholders will be invited to help shape its parameters. However, the key to the success and usefulness of the model will depend upon its resilience and flexibility in incorporating ways of using information that might not be easily quantified, simplified, or reduced in the way most models require. It’s imperative that this model is able to “talk” with other models that have been developed in different disciplines to avoid blind spots in comprehensive planning scenarios. Like a working document, the model should have an iterative capability so that it can consider whatever is dished out that is relevant to the water picture for Great Salt Lake.

What you don’t want to do is what was done for the West Davis Freeway proposal. A proposal that is being marketed as the answer to transportation needs of the future in West Davis County, a vast swath of agricultural landscape that lies between I-15 to the east and Great Salt Lake to the west. The genesis of this proposal came from the 1950’s mentality of large-scale automobile investments that promote more roads and encourage sprawl. Using 2040 growth projections along the Wasatch Front and the presumption that vehicle miles traveled would only be increasing, the transportation demand model was designed to answer only one ill conceived question – How can automobile congestion and delays be reduced in this sector over the next 20 years?

Relying on a paralysis of perspective, the model consists of a complex algorithm that digests information about lane miles and population, and spits out minutes of automobile delay. This model supports the argument that the only solution is to increase road capacity. Running on its own parallel track, the model ignores planning efforts like the Wasatch Choice for 2040 growth vision which “considers how growth, mobility, housing and jobs can be shaped for the next few decades to have outstanding positive impacts on the life of residents in the Greater Wasatch Area”.

We can’t afford to take such chances with Great Salt Lake and its water needs.

As a terminal lake that’s currently without its own water right or water appropriation (we’re working on it) it’s obvious that we need to have a much better handle on the status quo of water use and proposed water development as the population continues to grow and climate change affects precipitation, snowpack and run-off.  The Integrated Water Resource Management Model has the potential to be a significant step forward in effective and sustainable management of the Lake.  Hopefully, it will rise to the occasion

“I would say that the one thing that I learned tonight is that I really take the Great Salt Lake for granted. I never realized that it’s one of the special things in my life that probably I’ve overlooked, and didn’t realize it, how it has affected our community as well as my personal life…You live around it. You were a part of it, it was a part of your life and all of a sudden you’re saying, “wow, yeah, it really was,” and it’s still there and what’s gonna become of it? Because there’s gonna be some changes with the Great Salt Lake. We know there’s dams being formed, or being ready, and it’s going to recede…we’re gonna lose a lot of what goes into the Great Salt Lake.”

[Response from another participant] “We have to fight for that so that doesn’t happen.”

--all from Weber focus group participants – Trentleman Study


FRIENDS will be there for the Lake. I hope you’ll be there with us.

In saline,



Why We Care

  • I was born and raised in Salt Lake City. The lake has always summoned a feeling of being a secret and obscure place, almost untouchable and surreal.

    Max Rosenzweig, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant