Utah lawmakers ‘expose success’ for Great Salt Lake, says Abbott is ‘completely wrong’

Utah lawmakers ‘expose success’ for Great Salt Lake, says Abbott is ‘completely wrong’

He is completely dead wrong about what we did and the impact it is going to have on the lake, said Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican, who said Abbott was an alarmist. Wilson said that this is year two of what I think is going to be a 10 year effort. We accomplished everything we set out to do. I feel really good about what we've done and where we're at with the lake. The water levels of the Great Salt Lake reached an all-time low last fall. More concerning, the lake's salinity soared to levels that left scientists unsure how long the creatures at the base of the food web — brine flies and brine shrimp adapted to extreme conditions.

In January, Abbott and other scientists and conservationists released a report saying the lake needed emergency measures to stop the ongoing collapse and that the lake as we know is on track to disappear in five years. Some 10 million migratory birds - of more than 300 species - depend on the lake's habitat to survive each year. Small water levels threaten several industries including mining companies that evaporate lake brine to extract metals and commercial producers that farm brine shrimp, which are used in aquaculture.

More unhealthy dust is expected to be blown into communities near the lake as the lake dries up. Scientists are concerned because the dust contains toxic metals.

In January, scientists and politicians said that this winter could be a turning point.

Utah's accounts were flush with billions in unexpected revenues, and lawmakers promised they would spend generously on the lake. Lake levels were boosted by the good snow year.

In his budget, Cox proposed that Utah spend more than $560 million on water improvements, including $100 million to address the emergency and buy short-term agricultural water leases, and shepherd that water to Great Salt Lake.

When the legislative dust settled in March, lawmakers agreed to spend well north of $400 million in ongoing and one-time funding for the Great Salt Lake and water conservation, according to a list of budget appropriations.

In order to maximize agricultural water use, lawmakers used $200 million to fund a program that invested in cloud seeding and water measuring infrastructure. They created a new state office, the Great Salt Lake commissioner, and funded dust and air quality studies.

A bill to promote sod removal and efficient landscaping, a bill to ban water reuse in the Great Salt Lake Basin, and a bill to make sure the state has emergency powers is crossed are some of the bills passed by lawmakers.

The legislators chose not to set a specific target for lake levels or spend millions of dollars to boost lake levels by buying short-term water rights.

Such emergency measures were not necessary, according to some.

According to state senator Scott Sandall, we had an emergency plan in place that would have gotten enough water to save the ecology of the lake. We didn't have to pull that lever for emergency use.