August 26, 2020

Great Salt Lake can be saved, but only with some big changes, report says

By Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune

Bold water conservation strategies and changes in long-standing law and water policies are needed to slow the alarming shrinking of the Great Salt Lake, according to recommendation released Tuesday by an advisory panel.

Upstream diversions have long prevented vast quantities from replenishing the lake, reducing the lake by half its normal size with further declines predicted.

The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, empaneled by the Utah Legislature in 2010, fears the lake’s steady contraction is putting at risk a singular ecosystem that supports $1.3 billion in economic activity associated with brine shrimp, mineral extraction and recreation and provides an essential resting and nesting refuge for millions of migrating birds.

The council’s latest report describes 12 “actionable” measures that could keep the Great Salt Lake from evaporating into a dusty playa, a fate that has befallen many terminal lakes around the world, including Utah’s Sevier Lake.

“With Great Salt Lake water level declines of up to 11 feet due to Utahns’ use of water, we all need to take action, and quickly,” said Don Leonard, chairman of the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council. “The strategies listed in the report provide opportunities at both a community and legislative level to effect change.”

The recommendations include changing water law to recognize a legal right to conserved water, ensuring sufficient stream flows to the lake and improved coordination among stakeholders.

The 11-member council prepared the 137-page report in response to a 2019 legislative resolution acknowledging the importance of adequate flows into the lake. HCR10 called for the creation of “an overall policy that supports effective administration of water flow to Great Salt Lake to maintain or increase lake levels, while appropriately balancing economic, social, and environmental needs, including the need to sustain working agricultural land.”

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