Rally asks Utah Legislature to save Great Salt Lake

Save our Great Salt Lake Shares as a to-do list for lawmakers.

(Emma Keddington | Great Salt Lake Collaborative) Members of Save Our Great Salt Lake pose on Wednesday, April 1.

As the 2023 legislative session draws to a close, community activists rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday to demand emergency action for the dying Great Salt Lake.

About 20 people, organized by the Save Our Great Salt Lake group, unfurled a 10-foot banner dictating a “Great Salt Lake To-Do List” and stood on the front steps of the home’s chamber and demanded Measures.

“We’re losing the lake under your watch because you’re not paying close enough attention,” said Nan Seymour, a poet and activist who has hosted vigils on Antelope Island for the lake throughout the legislature.

“Although the window of opportunity is closing, it’s not closed yet,” she said. “Everything we do matters and now is the time.”

Activists fear the water will not get to the Great Salt Lake in time to prevent an ecological catastrophe.

“The reality is that in the legislature again and again [legislators] had many opportunities that they didn’t take,” said activist Luis Miranda. He cited actions including a failed resolution calling for the target lake to be raised. Another bill that would have diverted about $65 million a year from the Lake Powell and Bear River development projects to acquire Great Salt Lake water rights was never discussed.

“Now we’re two days away from the end of the Utah Legislature in 2023 and nothing of significance is happening,” Miranda said. “Meanwhile, the Great Salt Lake is dying.”

Responding to the complaints, Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, told Fox 13 News he expected water to enter the lake short term. “It is not our intention to lose our ecology.”

The legislature’s budget priorities include $200 million to reduce water use in agriculture, $15 million to measure untreated water (resulting in savings), and $3 million for a conservation awareness campaign. They are also passing several bills to incentivize the replacement of thirsty lawns for water-centric landscaping.

“We’ve made long-term solutions our base,” Sandall told Fox 13 News. “That’s what we’re doing with agricultural water optimization, that’s what we’re doing with our conservation plans, these are plans that will make sense year after year and we’re going to make a difference going forward.”

However, a phrase that would have required conserved water to get to the lake was dropped from a bill because water districts want to keep saved water for future growth.

“We haven’t been able to get the piece where this water is being diverted into the lake,” D-Millcreek MP Doug Owens, who supported the changed legislation, told Fox 13 News. “We will ask that this be voluntary this year and it will soon be mandatory.”

As co-chair of the Great Salt Lake Caucus, Owens acknowledged, “It’s hard to say if we’re doing enough, but we’re doing a lot to help the lake.”

Back at the rally, the activists were looking for action. “Saving water is one thing, making sure it gets to the Great Salt Lake is another,” said Save Our Great Salt Lake member Alex Veillieux.

Our Great Salt Lake to-do list includes:

  • Now water in the lake

  • Add 1,000,000 acre-feet of water per year

  • Designated Target: 4198+ feet of lake level, less than 15% salinity

  • Measure and monitor to direct water to the lake

  • preservation first

  • Co-management and co-stewards with tribes

  • Local executives in all decision-making bodies

  • Loss and Damage Fund to compensate people affected by dust and economic damage

  • A just agricultural transition from lucerne cultivation

  • Create viable markets for local agriculture

  • No more subsidized water wastage

  • No development of the Bear River

  • Recognize the rights of the lake

Olivia Juarez, director of public lands for the GreenLatinos community group, stressed the importance of incorporating “collective stewardship and tribal stewardship” into decision-making regarding the Great Salt Lake.

“Currently all boards and committees lack tribal leaders, which is wrong,” they said.

Juarez explained how marginalized community members — including those who are disabled, elderly, homeless and from Salt Lake City’s west side, where a predominantly black and low-income population lives — will be disproportionately exposed to the toxic pollutants that will come out of the drying up lake bed.

“To date, the state has treated the GSL and their people as disposable items. Now is the time to assert that community and ecosystem are interdependent,” they said.

Utah farmer Madeleine Bavley brought up agriculture, saying, “It’s not about preserving agriculture or saving the Great Salt Lake. We have to do both.”

She described the need to replace current “thirsty plants” with plants better suited to desert environments.

“We must support the transition to farming practices that allow more water to enter the Great Salt Lake,” she said.

This article is published by the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that brings together news, education and media organizations to educate people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to help make a difference before it’s too late. Read all of our stories below greatsaltlakenews.org.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/03/02/we-are-losing-lake-your-watch/ Rally asks Utah Legislature to save Great Salt Lake

Justin Scaccy

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