Lawmakers unveil a pair of bills aimed at restoring the Great Salt Lake

Jan 25, 2023, 6:17 PM | Updated: 6:46 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah lawmakers unveiled a pair of bills aimed at protecting and restoring an optimal water level in the Great Salt Lake. One bill would establish a restoration level for the lake, and the other would raise money to continue the work. 

Last year, the Utah Legislature made historic appropriations to help restore the Great Salt Lake and keep it from dropping any further. These bills would set a target level for restoration and divert tax money to buy water rights and pay for other work.

“We all want to save the Great Salt Lake. But, what does that mean?” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.

Utah residents and lawmakers agree that protecting the lake is a priority, but the state has no specific goal or water level by which to measure success. 

“It is a big responsibility for us to protect what is one of the most important wetland habitats in the entire world,” Frankel said at a press conference with official lawmakers Wednesday afternoon.

The Utah Rivers Council worked on these bills with Rep. Joel Briscoe, Salt Lake and Sen. Nate Blouin, Salt Lake.

Sen. Blouin’s bill would set an official state goal to protect the Great Salt Lake. 

“We’ve set up a great framework that’s going to get water back to the lake,” he said. “But we haven’t established a target that gives us an over arching goal to work towards.“

Right now, the lake sits at 4189 feet, nine feet below what is considered the minimum healthy level, according to scientists.

“It’s time that we set a goal that we can work towards and celebrate when we get there,” Blouin said. “This resolution will establish an official goal to raise the lake level to at least 4198 feet.“

The last time the lake reached that level was 11 years ago.

Briscoe’s Bill, the Great Salt Lake Funding Modifications Bill, would redirect $60 million in existing annual sales tax collections to a fund to restore the Great Salt Lake. The money would be diverted for five years, for a total of $300 million.

“So that FFSL — Forestry, Fire and State Lands — and the Division of Natural Resources will have funds to work with in their project of the Great Salt Lake restoration without raising taxes or fees,” Briscoe said. 

Since 2015, that money has gone into a fund to pay for future construction of the Lake Powell pipeline and Bear River development. So, diverting that money will likely require negotiation. Right now, that fund has $180 million in it.

“The crisis now is the great Salt Lake, it is not bringing water to Washington County, or to the Wasatch Front from the Bear River,” he said. 

 KSL will keep an eye on these bills and let you know when they are up for consideration. 

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Lawmakers unveil a pair of bills aimed at restoring the Great Salt Lake