Great Salt Lake To Do List
WRITTEN ON MARCH 1, 2023.
Water to the Lake Now
Additional 1,000,000 acre feet per year
Emergency Water Releases from Reservoirs
Set Target: 4198+ Lake Level and <15% Salinity
Measure and Monitor to Shepherd Water
Comanagement and Costewardship with Tribes
Native Leaders on All Decision-Making Bodies
Loss and Damage Fund
Just Agricultural Transition
Create Viable Markets for Local Agriculture
No More Subsidized Water Waste
No Bear River Development Project
Legally Recognize the Lake’s Inherent Rights: to Live, Flourish, and to be Restored
With two days left in the 2023 legislative session, our decision-makers have failed to take meaningful action to get water to Great Salt Lake. The Lake is facing collapse, which would spell disaster for our health, the critical ecosystem and 10 million birds, and our local economies.
Our legislature has the power to avert this crisis and take emergency action to get water to the lake but they’ve demonstrated that either they do not understand the urgency – scientists say we have 5 years on our current trajectory before collapse – or, they lack the political will to take necessary measures to protect our future.
Throughout this year’s session, our legislature has had several opportunities to take meaningful steps for Great Salt Lake. They failed to pass SCR06 – a resolution that sets a target elevation of 4198 ft, despite this being the #1 policy recommendation from the state’s leading scientists and researchers.
Our leaders have also ignored the governor’s request for $100 million to address the salinity crisis. Futhermore, they have refused to even consider redirecting sales tax away from the destructive Bear River Development Project into a fund for Great Salt Lake.
Instead, they have chosen to respond with administrative tweaks and increased bureaucracy when the moment demands actions far greater. Now is the time to move beyond incremental solutions. The Utah legislature’s actions this session do not enable us to get water to Great Salt Lake in the short term. We must treat this as a crisis, and while the legislature refuses to address it with real solutions, we know what must be done:
First and foremost, we need water in Great Salt Lake now. Anything less is not a solution. Specifically, we need an additional 1,000,000 acre feet of water per year flowing into GSL and we call on state leadership to do whatever it takes to make this happen, including emergency releases from reservoirs, and conservation mandates. We call for a minimum healthy elevation level of 4198+ ft and a healthy salinity level under 15% that allows for a thriving ecosystem.
Saving water is one thing, making sure it gets to Great Salt Lake is another. We need better measuring and monitoring of our water use and to ensure that any water saved is shepherded – meaning increased staff and infrastructure to guarantee that conserved water actually flows to Great Salt Lake.
Now is the time for “conservation over pipedreams.” Conservation should be considered first in all decisions for Great Salt Lake. Conservation addresses the root of our mismanagement and water waste rather than gambling on new sources of water that at-best would be no more than a bandaid. Conservation also costs taxpayers far less.
Now is the time for conservation planning to be directed by community members whose health and cultures are threatened by a diminishing Great Salt Lake.
This includes the Goshute, Shoshone, and Ute peoples and their sovereign governments who were subject to colonization and displacement from their homelands which hold Great Salt Lake. Tribes are the best ecological stewards, as they’ve been stewarding this Great Basin since time immemorial. Now is the time to integrate tribal co-management and co-stewardship of Great Salt Lake into all decision-making bodies. Currently all the boards and committees created for Great Salt Lake lack tribal leaders which is wrong. Now is the time for native leadership and for Utah to commence state-to-state collaboration with the affected sovereign tribal nations.
We are calling for a loss and damage fund to compensate those whose health has already been harmed, and whose health will continue to diminish, by toxic dust from a drying Great Salt Lake. Now is the time to consult with marginalized community members—our westside residents, those who are disabled, elderly, unhoused, and more—to repair from the disproportionate exposure to carcinogens and other toxic pollutants revealed from the lakebed.
Until today, the state has treated Great Salt Lake and her peoples like they are disposable. Now is the time to assert that community and ecosystem health are interdependent.
80% of Utah’s water goes to agriculture. So we must look to agriculture as a key part of the solution. This requires that we work alongside farmers rather than point fingers. After all, we all depend on the work that farmers do.
It’s not a question of sustaining agriculture in Utah or saving Great Salt Lake. We must do both. But we must focus on agriculture that feeds Utahns while also stewarding land and water resources and supporting rural communities.
The 2017 Utah Water Strategy Report makes this clear: “In arid regions like Utah, agricultural viability requires that land and water be bound together, with food production as the most direct and primary beneficial use of agricultural water.”
We must support a transition to agricultural practices that allow more water to make its way into Great Salt Lake. This means providing alternatives to thirsty crops such as alfalfa—the largest consumer of river water in the West—and promoting local ag markets. We must ensure a just agricultural transition in order to produce food that feeds Utahns while preserving Great Salt Lake.
Lawmakers, we are losing the lake on your watch because you are not watching closely enough. We, the people are paying attention, even keeping vigil, and will not let this stand.
We must humble ourselves before water. We live in a desert and must live within our means. Now is the time to eliminate property-tax subsidies that keep our water prices artificially low. This step is essential to manage our population growth in our increasingly arid future.
To the lawmakers still siphoning off tax money to develop Bear River, we see you failing to protect the lake as you fill your own pockets. This is unethical and unjust and we call for it to end.
Nearly $70 million dollars of tax-payer money is STILL being collected every year for BRD. Redirect these funds to restore Great Salt Lake. No more dredging, diverting, or damming. We’ve had more than enough.
This crisis is spiritual and ethical. We arrived here by following false gods. Until we turn away from rampant development, consumerism, and reckless growth, we will continue to destroy the lake and our own lives as well.
Let me conclude with good news, across the nation and internationally, rivers are being restored, dams are coming down, and the rights of natural bodies are being proclaimed and defended.
We, the citizens of this lakebed, could be leaders in this worldwide movement. Across the earth, saline seas are in peril. Church and state leaders here have the resources and capacity to restore our namesake. We could become global exemplars by saving Great Salt Lake!
We must proclaim GSL’s right to live and flourish. Her right to be restored. There are precedents to help us establish the lake’s inherent rights as legally defensible. Doesn’t it make sense to ensure personal rights for the lake at least on par with those of corporations?
Now is the time to turn towards the lake with reverence. She is the center, not the periphery. A creator, not a commodity. The source, not just a resource. It is past time we honor her bodily sovereignty.
We belong to the lake and each other. Our lives are inseparable from her great life.
Though the window of possibility is closing, it is not yet closed. Now is the time to take responsibility for how this goes.
Everything we do matters. In the face of this crisis, who will we become?