SALT LAKE CITY — A significant piece of legislation on the Great Salt Lake is advancing on Utah's Capitol Hill after a tense hearing.

House Bill 453, sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, is aimed at getting more water into the lake, which dropped to its lowest level in recorded history in 2022 and presents an ecological crisis for northern Utah in the form of toxic dust storms, reduced snowpack, a hit to the economy, public health and wildlife.

Recent Stories from

"We, as a state, are making significant investments in water to save the Great Salt Lake," Rep. Snider told the House Natural Resources Committee during a hearing Thursday.

A provision of the bill rewrites how mineral extraction companies can use water that hits the lake. Where it was previously considered "wasted" once water drained into the terminal system that is the Great Salt Lake, that will no longer be the case.

"In current statute, every drop is available for depletion through extraction," he said.

HB 453 means these companies will no longer be allowed to just take water and have to be treated like any other water user that is forced to make cuts in lean years. Rep. Snider joked, "Welcome to agriculture. You ought to join us in prayer that it rains."

The bill won praise from environmental groups who testified in support of it on Thursday.

"We support this legislation and see it as a necessary step forward in helping protect Great Salt Lake," said Lynn de Freitas, the executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake.

U.S. Magnesium, a mineral extraction company that operates on the Great Salt Lake, said it still had concerns with the bill, but thanked Rep. Snider for continuing to negotiate with them. But the head of the Utah Manufacturers Association accused Rep. Snider of excluding them in talks.

"He has never responded to me," said Todd Bingham, the association's president.

Rep. Snider scoffed at the remark.

Bingham warned the committee the bill would harm efforts to extract critical minerals that are necessary in the world today. On Thursday, Compass Minerals announced it would suspend lithium extraction operations in Ogden citing "regulatory risks" in what appeared to be a reference to Rep. Snider's bill.

"The uncertainty in regulatory hurdles included the legislation would prevent viable business from making such highly intensive capital investments on the lake," Bingham said.

But the claim by the manufacturer's group that Rep. Snider has refused to engage with them appeared to anger House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee.

"I've asked those organizations and businesses to engage. They’ve chosen not to," the Speaker told Bingham.

Looking directly at Bingham, Speaker Schultz accused some mineral extraction companies of refusing to come to the table with solutions.

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

The exchange left many in the room stunned.

"To hear the Speaker of the Republican supermajority more or less attacking the mineral companies saying 'we've got to hold them accountable,' it's really quite amazing," Chandler Rosenberg with the Great Basin Water Network told FOX 13 News afterward. "I didn’t expect to be on the same page, but as we saw starting this summer? They're taking this issue seriously. I think all bets are off when it comes to how we're dealing with the Great Salt 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.

Related Articles