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Health, Science & Environment

To combat low Great Salt Lake levels, lawmaker proposes new water use rules

A photo of the Great Salt Lake.
Emily Allen
/
Flickr
The Great Salt Lake is quickly approaching its lowest water level in recorded history.

Utah Rep. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, is sponsoring a bill aimed at keeping water levels in the Great Salt Lake at healthy levels.

The lake reached a historic low during the 2021 summer drought.

“The Great Salt Lake is in a serious crisis that is impacting all Utahns,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council. His organization helped write the bill, which was unveiled Tuesday. “It is a severe problem that threatens the air quality and public health for millions along the Wasatch Front.”

In the legislation, there are four different levels of action depending on the 10-year average water level of the Great Salt Lake.

In the first tier, the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands would ask nearby water districts to voluntarily share water with the lake. It would also publish a report on how to get back to a healthy lake level. The lake is currently in the first tier, according to the Utah Rivers Council.

As the average lake level gets lower, there are more restrictive actions. Those include requiring nearby water districts to sell or lease some of their water rights, a ban on watering grass at state facilities and increasing fees for secondary water suppliers. Secondary irrigation water is used for outdoor spaces like golf courses, parks and cemeteries. The fees would not apply to water used for agriculture.

“These fees go to the Division of Forestry, Fire and [State] Lands, and they can use that money to buy water rights,” Frankel said. “So the bill is meant to fund the acquisition of water rights for the lake.”

The fees are also meant to incentivize people to use less water.

Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson has listed Great Salt Lake conservation as one of his top priorities this year. But his spokesperson said this bill hasn’t been in discussions about the lake and declined to comment on it.

One proposal that has come out of those discussions is a bill, H.B. 157, to create a fund to help manage the lake’s levels. The account would be funded by royalties the state receives from mining salt out of the lake.

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