January 15, 2024

2024 Legislative Session Outlook

FRIENDS Executive Director, Lynn de Freitas, with Representatives Joel Briscoe and Doug Owens on the floor of the Utah House. FRIENDS Executive Director, Lynn de Freitas, with Representatives Joel Briscoe and Doug Owens on the floor of the Utah House.


Over the past five years, Great Salt Lake’s decline has triggered a corresponding increase in action by the Utah State Legislature. As we enter what will hopefully be another year of meaningful progress, let’s take a look back at what’s been done and look ahead to what we could expect from this year’s session.




H.C.R. 10 Concurrent Resolution to Address Declining Water Levels of the Great Salt Lake
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Hawkes
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

Before H.C.R. 10, only a trickle of water legislation had made its way into policy, usually with Great Salt Lake as a footnote. This resolution shifted our state’s fundamental perception of the Lake as being vital to the state’s economic, ecological, and environmental health. The resolution urged the Utah Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality to act quickly to prevent irreversible economic and ecological degradation caused by declining lake levels. In December 2020, the Great Salt Lake Resolution (HCR-10) Steering Group issued a report titled Recommendations to Ensure Adequate Water Flows to Great Salt Lake and Its Wetlands. This report helped spur timely legislative initiatives to support effective responses to the Lake’s decline. The important foundation laid by H.C.R. 10 has been present in most water legislation passed over the last five years. 



S.B. 26 Water Banking Amendments
Bill Sponsor: Sen. Iwamoto
Floor Sponsor: Rep. Hawkes

An experimental shift in “Use-it or Lose-it” water law, this bill authorized a 10-year pilot program permitting water rights holders to voluntarily and temporarily lease their water rights, including for environmental purposes such as instream flows and Great Salt Lake. This bill established the Water Banking Act and was paired with a one-time appropriation of $400,000 along with a matching federal SmartWATER grant to implement and study water banking in the state. 



H.B. 33 Instream Water Flow Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Ferry
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

A more dynamic shift in “Use-it or Lose-it” water law, this bill granted certain state agencies the power to recognize the “beneficial use” of an instream flow on sovereign lands, including Great Salt Lake. The statute provided that water leased, purchased or donated for instream flow in Great Salt Lake and its tributaries can be deemed by the Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands (DFFSL) as being put to “beneficial use” under Utah water law.  As a result, water that was once considered “wasted” is now protected under the law.  


H.B. 429 Great Salt Lake Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Miles
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

This bill and its $5M appropriation directed the Division of Water Resources to conduct an Integrated Water Assessment in the Great Salt Lake Watershed. The work would include an analysis of the integration of surface and groundwater, a forecast of water availability for all water uses (i.e., people and the environment), and a water budget for Great Salt Lake and its associated wetlands. The water budget would address water flows needed to maintain different lake levels with consideration of water quality, ecological needs, economic benefits, and public health benefits. With the addition of a WaterSMART grant from the Bureau of Reclamation to conduct a Great Salt Lake Basin Study, these two studies were combined to develop the Great Salt Lake Basin Integrated Plan (GSLBIP). A draft Work Plan for GSLBIP was released in Fall 2023. The Final Action Plan is to be completed by November 2026 and presented to the legislature. The purpose of GSLBIP is to “Ensure a resilient water supply for the Lake and all water uses, including people and the environment throughout the watershed.” 


H.B. 410 Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Wilson
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Vickers

This bill authorized $40 million to establish the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust (GSLWET) to enhance water quantity and water quality for Great Salt Lake and its wetlands. The Trust provides legal tools and financial resources necessary to purchase, lease, and accept donated water rights for the Lake. National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy worked together to establish the framework of the Trust, and create its Advisory Board. The GSLWET will soon evolve into its own 501(c)(3). That work is nearly completed and water partnerships are being forged. 


H.B. 157 Sovereign Lands Revenue Amendments
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Hawkes
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Stevenson

This bill established the Sovereign Lands Management Account which will keep revenue generated from resource development on State Sovereign Lands within DFFSL. A separate Great Salt Lake Account was also created wherein the royalties from Great Salt Lake resource development, such as mineral extraction and brine shrimp harvest, would be held by DFFSL and used for the specific benefit of Great Salt Lake. A collective $7,000,000 initial appropriation was made to establish the accounts. 


H.B. 242 Secondary Water Metering Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Peterson
Floor Sponsor: Sen. McKell

This bill requires metering of all existing secondary water (non-culinary irrigation water) connections before 2030 by progressively ramping up requirements by county. This policy change expanded on the groundwork of 2019’s S.B. 52, and addressed scope, definitions, and exemptions in 2020’s S.B. 51



H.B. 491 Amendments Related to The Great Salt Lake 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Schultz
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

This bill enacted the Great Salt Lake Commissioner Act, which designates a Great Salt Lake Commissioner to oversee the long-term health of Great Salt Lake. The Commissioner will represent Great Salt Lake on the Board of Water Resources. The bill also provides funding for the Commissioner's office, staff, and efforts to manage the Lake's water levels. Finally, it provided office space and support to the Commissioner within the Department of Natural Resources.

In May, 2023, Governor Cox appointed Dr. Brian Steed as the Great Salt Lake Commissioner, who recently hired Tim Davis as Deputy Commissioner. Commissioner Steed also serves as the Executive Director of Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air at Utah State University and is Co-chair of the Great Salt Lake Strike Team. Dr. Steed had previously served as the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, and as Deputy Director of Policy and Programs of the Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C. 

Commissioner Steed has a long track record of advocating for Great Salt Lake and getting things done, He knows the people, the politics, and the Lake. We are pleased to have him in this position and look forward to working in support of his Great Salt Lake Strategic Plan.

H.B. 513 Great Salt Lake Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Snider
Floor Sponsor: Sen. McKell

This bill imposed new, stronger requirements for mineral extraction regulations, including lithium extraction, in Great Salt Lake. DFFSL and the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) are now drafting new rules to implement those requirements, which are expected to be finalized and open for public comment in early 2024. FRIENDS has been actively engaging in the rulemaking process with DFFSL and DWQ, providing input to ensure the agencies’ rules are rigorous enough to prevent negative impacts on the Lake’s chemistry and biota from these industries.


Looking Ahead

An outlook on the Utah 2024 General Legislative Session by Lynn de Freitas, FRIENDS Executive Director


Although anything is possible, I don’t expect to see any revolutionary Great Salt Lake bills coming out of the 2024 legislative session. For the most part, I think that the bills we do see will be either refinements of previous bills, or legislative mandates directed at determining how well existing programs have performed and how much additional water has actually made it to the Lake. Unfortunately, while it’s reasonable to want to know whether the money the Legislature has already invested in the Lake has been well spent, we’re simply too early in the process to be able to say for sure one way or the other. One of the big impediments to getting this information has been the lack of metering equipment in key locations – something that’s still in the process of being installed. I’m afraid we’re just going to have to be patient for the time being.

There are a few bills on the horizon that we’re keeping our eye on. Representative Casey Snider has drafted an ambitious bill (H.B. 280) that would require a statewide system of planning and funding for water infrastructure projects that’s worth watching. There are also bills drafted that would add reporting requirements for the Great Salt Lake Commissioner; would amend how water is measured and accounted for (H.B. 61 & H.B. 242); would add requirements for water-efficient landscaping (H.B. 11); and, would give legal protections for water “saved” through agricultural optimization and other efficiencies (S.B. 18).  All of these bills, while important, are largely filling in the gaps in legislation from previous sessions.

Rest assured that FRIENDS’ staff will be closely tracking the session as it progresses and will be sending out updates and action alerts as needed. In the meantime, fingers and toes crossed for lots of snow.

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