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This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.

Saving the Great Salt Lake polls strong, but some Utahns don’t hear the urgency locally

Great Salt Lake, evaporation ponds, Promontory mountains, Aug. 3, 2022
David Childs
The Great Salt Lake's Bear River Bay, evaporation ponds for Compass Minerals and the Promontory Mountains, Aug. 3, 2022. Compass is looking for potash for use in fertilizer production.

The shrinking Great Salt Lake is on a lot of minds these days. An overwhelming number of Utahns — 80% — are concerned, according to a September poll by the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics.

That apprehension isn’t concentrated on one particular political party, gender or race either.

“We asked them that question, ‘how concerned are you about the Great Salt Lake?’ And it’s almost everyone,” said Hinckley Director Jason Perry. “Every particular demographic in the state of Utah is concerned about that.”

On top of that, 73% of respondents said they would also support more money invested in efforts to save the ailing lake.

State leaders have pledged increased funding, but some voters say they aren’t hearing much about it from their local elected representatives.

"Candidates don’t seem to be making it a talking point at all,” said Box Elder News Journal Associate Editor Loni Newby. “The biggest conversations come from folks over at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge who are focused on conservation efforts all around.”

Newby isn’t the only person noticing.

Box Elder County has been identified as an area that could be most affected by increasing dust from the drying lakebed, including Willard Bay, which is near to where retiree Raymond Trujillo lives.

“I haven’t heard anyone say we’re going to build more dams for retention of water, we’re going to build larger storage facilities,” Trujillo said. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”

The rivers that feed the lake have increasingly been turned to serve Utah’s population, choking off water levels. Drought and a changing climate are doing their part too. Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed a $40 million piece of legislation aimed at protecting the lake and its larger watershed. That includes exploring ways to increase or sustain water flows into the lake and protecting the surrounding wetlands.

Newby attributes the lack of rhetoric surrounding the lake to largely uncompetitive state and local elections.

“I think that if state seats had more competition then it would have potentially been a larger discussion,” she said. “But with [State Sen. Scott] Sandall being uncontested and Joel Ferry’s position having more complicated issues regarding his new appointment [as executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources], that has been a distraction."

The disconnect may also exist with the voters. In a July Deseret/Hinckley poll, only 8% of respondents said environmental issues were a top priority. Yet, just a few months later when voters were asked about it separately, the Great Salt Lake ranked as a much higher concern.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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