Former natural resources director tapped to be Utah’s 1st Great Salt Lake commissioner

May 15, 2023, 7:51 PM

Brian Steed, former executive director at the Utah Department of Natural Resources, in 2021. Gov. S...

Brian Steed, former executive director at the Utah Department of Natural Resources, in 2021. Gov. Spencer Cox picked Steed to be the first-ever Great Salt Lake commissioner on Monday. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is backing the state’s former natural resources director to oversee functions related to the Great Salt Lake, pending final approval from the Utah Legislature.

The governor announced Monday that he is picking Brian Steed to serve as the commissioner of the Great Salt Lake, a position crafted during this year’s legislative session.

“Brian has been a trusted advisor for many years and I appreciate his willingness to re-enter public service at this critical time. We have a unique opportunity right now to protect and preserve the Great Salt Lake, and Brian’s expertise and passion for the lake will ensure its future is secure for generations to come,” Cox said in a statement.

Steed served as the executive director at the Utah Department of Natural Resources from 2019 to 2022, before he was named to the same role at Utah State University’s Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air. He also is a member of the Great Salt Lake Strike Team, which published a report in February about what is needed to save the Great Salt Lake.

University officials said Monday that Steed will continue to serve as the director of the institute while also serving as the commissioner of the Great Salt Lake.

“I am honored by this nomination and am very excited to continue working on the challenges facing the Great Salt Lake,” Steed said Monday. “The decisions we make today will have a huge impact on the lake and its future, as well as on the quality of life Utahns have historically enjoyed. I am optimistic that by working together we can get it right.”

The Legislature designed the commissioner role during this year’s legislative session after the lake reached an all-time low again in 2022. The commissioner, who serves a six-year term, is tasked with meeting various agencies that study the lake and with Utah government leaders, as well as preparing “an approved strategic plan for the long-term health” of the lake, according to HB491.

The lake’s level at Saltair Boat Harbor is now listed at 4,193.1 feet elevation, about 4.4 feet above where it was in November. Despite its vast improvement over the past few months, experts say the lake is now about where it was in 2021. It’s also about 5 below the minimum lake level goal outlined by the Great Salt Lake Strike Team report this winter.

Meanwhile, the Utah Legislature is still required to vote to confirm Steed’s appointment; however, both Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Monday that they support Cox’s selection for the job.

“While no small task, I have the utmost confidence in Brian Steed,” Wilson said. “He has proved time and time again that he’s capable of tackling big issues and working toward the greater good. I know this will continue as he oversees efforts to protect, preserve and enhance the Great Salt Lake.”

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Former natural resources director tapped to be Utah’s 1st Great Salt Lake commissioner