SALT LAKE CITY — People in brine shrimp costumes danced as the crowd chanted and sang on the steps of the Utah State Capitol.

They waved signs that read "Just Add Water" and "Feeling Salty About Inaction on Great Salt Lake." Off to the side, a doomsday clock counted down. The crowd was here at the Capitol on Saturday to demand Utah's political leaders do more to save the Great Salt Lake. The Utah Highway Patrol told FOX 13 News it estimated the crowd was more than 1,200 people.

"I have never seen this kind of urgency, passion, participation from all walks of life. Diverse, deep and wide," said author and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who participated in the massive demonstration.

People in the crowd had their reasons for participating. One man said he has asthma and worries about dust as the Great Salt Lake shrinks. A woman told FOX 13 News she worries for her child's future in a toxic dust bowl.

The Great Salt Lake dropped to its lowest level in recorded history in 2022 as a result of water diversion, drought and a changing climate. The lake, on the verge of ecological collapse, provides snowpack and water supply for northern Utah. Exposed lake bed whips up dust that blows into populated areas. Naturally-occurring minerals in that exposed lake bed include arsenic.

Saturday's demonstration, organized by a coalition of environmental groups, is designed to elected officials to take more actions to get water into the Great Salt Lake.

"I think our leaders need to see the groundswell of activism that’s here in the state," said Darren Parry, a leader in the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. "What’s heartening for me is the youth. The youth are showing up and saying enough is enough."

Public polling shows the Great Salt Lake is a top priority for Utahns. Political leaders insist they will not allow the Great Salt Lake to go dry. Over the past two years, lawmakers have passed a series of bills and spent more than $1 billion on water conservation measures designed to help. They have appointed a commissioner to oversee lake recovery efforts who gave state leaders a series of recommendations.

On Saturday, activists who rallied the crowd expressed some frustration that there aren't specific actions to get more water into the lake. An investigation by the Great Salt Lake Collaborative (of which FOX 13 News is a member) found that despite the state's efforts to get agriculture producers to switch to water-saving technologies, they cannot guarantee that conserved water is making it to the lake.

Lawmakers are considering bills this year to push saved water downstream and even pay farmers to not grow so many crops and dedicate that water to the lake. While the goal is to get water into the lake, none of the legislation unveiled so far explicitly commits it.

"They're either in denial or they have their own agenda," Williams said of lawmakers. "And it’s very clear the citizens of Utah want to restore water to Great Salt Lake. We are hoping they are not only listening but this will be a very different session."

In response to questions from FOX 13 News on Friday, House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, insisted saving the Great Salt Lake remains a top priority for the Utah State Legislature.

"I'm passionate about the Great Salt Lake. I know it well," he said. "It's an issue that we’re going to continue to dive into, make it a top priority and make sure we're continuing our efforts to get water to 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.

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