Plan tackles a number of ways to help the ailing saline body of water, basin

The Utah Division of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday the finalization of the “work plan” for the Great Salt Lake Basin Integrated plan, which charts the course for developing the overall strategy.

The document comes after a 65-day comment period and was updated in response to recommendations and incorporates specific actions necessary for completing the final product.

“The Great Salt Lake holds a profound importance for Utah, serving as a critical element in our environment, economy and cultural heritage,” said the Division of Water Resources Director Candice Hasenyager. “This finalized work plan marks a significant stride in our commitment to tackling intricate challenges in preserving and safeguarding this extraordinary asset.”

It was funded by $5 million from the Utah Legislature in 2022 via HB429 and $3.1 million from Reclamation’s basin study program.

“Aridification in the western U.S. is a pressing issue that demands collaboration and action,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan. “Working together to find solutions that chart a path to a sustainable future for our water resources is essential for addressing the challenges that face the Great Salt Lake.”

The plan addresses:

  • Assessing current surface and groundwater supply in the Great Salt Lake Basin.
  • Forecasting future water demands.
  • Investigating potential benefits of forest management and watershed restoration.
  • Coordinating efforts to quantify and incorporate demand into the water supply and demand model.
  • Identifying and evaluating best management practices to provide a reliable water supply to quantify and incorporate demand into models.

Additionally, the plan emphasizes identifying the tradeoffs in relation to impacts on water users throughout the basin and avoiding deterioration of agriculture, industry and ecosystems, as well as developing “holistic” ways to manage water resources.

“The tools the work plan is developing will provide vital information and guidance as we work to get the Great Salt Lake to a healthy range and sustain it from there,” said Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed.

In its executive summary, the Utah Division of Water and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation noted the ongoing challenges in a climate that over the years has become increasingly arid.

“Declining water levels in our lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and the Great Salt Lake emphasize that our water supply is limited. Continued growth places additional demands on a water supply already declining due to drought and climate change. A resilient water supply that supports the requirements of all uses within the watershed is needed for generations to come,” it said. “Ensuring a resilient water supply requires extraordinary vision and a collaborative effort. Solutions remain socially and technically complex as demands on this limited resource continue to increase.”

The legislation approved in the 2022 state Legislature mandated the full plan be completed by Nov. 30, 2026, setting the stage for possible additional legislative tools as water managers and other experts look to safeguarding and improving water resources in the Great Basin. A copy of the work plan is available on the Utah Department of Natural Resources’ website.

There is ongoing work to address water scarcity and build more water wise approaches into communities, but it can move slowly.

Lawmakers noted earlier this session that too many communities in the Great Salt Lake drainage, for example, lack a water conservation plan and represent 40% of the population.

The lawmakers’ resolution, HJR27, sponsored by Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, did not force the adoption of new standards, but encouraged them.

It did not pass because of time constraints.

However, he sponsored HB11 requiring water efficiency standards for new construction in government buildings such as schools and other buildings. It passed and was signed by the governor.

Deseret News Reporter
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues. In 2019 she received a silver medal in the prestigious Kavli competition by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Amy’s family lives in Weber County with their horses, chickens, Irish Wolfhounds and Jack the cat.

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