SALT LAKE CITY — A major bill designed to help the Great Salt Lake has passed the legislature and is headed to Governor Spencer Cox's desk.

The bill now appears to have even won over opponents of the legislation.

House Bill 453, sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, rewrites how water is used by mineral extraction companies that operate on the Great Salt Lake. Where water that ended up in the lake was considered "wasted" and available for those companies, it's no longer the case in this bill. Like other water users, they will have to make cuts in drier years.

The bill also reworks the severance taxes the state gets from mineral extraction, earmarking revenue from the sale of those minerals back to the Great Salt Lake.

It has been a controversial bill since its inception with some mineral extraction companies and industry groups arguing it would hurt jobs. During a heated hearing on the bill earlier this month, House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, accused some companies of refusing to engage with the legislature on this.

"They continue to throw out concerns, concerns, concerns and stall," Speaker Schultz said in the hearing. "And never find a way to work together to collaboratively make sure we protect the Great Salt Lake."

But in negotiations as the bill has made its way from the House to the Senate, an olive branch was offered. Companies that use more water-wise extraction processes (or use no water at all) would get a discount on the severance taxes owed to the state. The deal was finalized in a hastily called committee hearing that FOX 13 News attended on Thursday afternoon, where mineral industry lobbyists were present as lawmakers hashed out the technical details.

"I believe that we’ve created certainty under that process for industry, we’ve created certainty for those of us that save water in the lake because now everybody plays by the same set of rules," Rep. Snider told FOX 13 News afterward. "By the end of the day it’s an amicable bill and I'm grateful for everybody that’s engaged on it."

In a statement issued through the Utah House of Representatives on Thursday, the CEO of Compass Minerals appeared to agree.

"Improving and preserving the sustainability of the Great Salt Lake is a vital goal we all share, and one to which we must all contribute," said Edward C. Dowling Jr. "We greatly appreciate the collaborative approach of the bill sponsors and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to ensure this legislation enables continued responsible mineral extraction as we all work toward the long-term health of the lake."

Throughout this legislative session, lawmakers have considered a number of bills to help with water conservation and the Great Salt Lake including measures to ensure that saved water gets downstream and that water can be donated to places like the lake without fear of losing precious water rights. The legislature has also funded efforts to pay agriculture producers for water they might use for an extra crop and instead send it to the lake.

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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