The Great Salt Lake still threatened despite the influx of snow and silver
“He’s completely wrong about what we’ve done and the impact it’s going to have on the lake,” Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican, said Abbott was an “alarmist.” .
“This is the second year of what I think is going to have to be a 10-year effort,” Wilson said. “We accomplished everything we set out to do and more. I feel really good about what we’ve done and where we are with the lake.
Last fall, water levels in the Great Salt Lake reached a historic low. More worryingly, the lake’s salinity has risen to levels that have left scientists uncertain how long the creatures at the base of the food web – brine flies and brine shrimp adapted to extreme conditions – could hang on.
In January, Abbott and other scientists and conservationists released a report saying the lake needed “urgent action” to stop the “ongoing collapse” and that “the lake as we know is about to disappear in five years”.
The consequences are enormous.
Each year, some 10 million migratory birds – of more than 300 species – depend on the lake’s habitat to survive. Low water levels threaten several industries, including mining companies that evaporate brine from the lake to extract metals and commercial producers that raise brine shrimp, which are used in aquaculture.
As the lake dries up, more unhealthy dust is expected to blow into communities near the lake. Scientists are worried because the dust contains toxic metals.
In January, scientists and politicians said this winter could be a turning point.
Utah’s accounts were brimming with billions in windfall revenue, and lawmakers promised they would spend lavishly on the lake. The good year of snow foreshadowed an increase in the level of the lakes.
In his budget, Cox proposed that Utah spend more than $560 million on water improvements, including $100 million to deal with the emergency and purchase short-term agricultural leases and “shepherd this water towards the Great Salt Lake.
When the legislative dust died down in March, lawmakers agreed to spend well north of $400 million in ongoing, one-time funding for the Great Salt Lake and water conservation, according to a budget appropriations listing.
Lawmakers used $200 million to fund a program to optimize agricultural water use and invested in cloud seeding and water metering infrastructure. They funded dust and air quality studies and created a new state office: the Great Salt Lake Commissioner.
Lawmakers passed a bill to encourage turf removal and efficient landscaping, a bill to ban water reuse in the Great Salt Lake basin so more water flows into the lake , and a bill to ensure the state has emergency powers if ecological or salinity thresholds are crossed.
Lawmakers chose not to set a specific target for lake levels or to spend millions of dollars to raise lake levels by buying up short-term water rights.
Some argued that such emergency measures were unnecessary.
“We had a contingency plan in place that would have gotten enough water, in my opinion, to save the ecology” of the lake, Sen. Scott Sandall said at a taped media event. “Mother Nature helped us. We didn’t have to pull that lever for emergency use.