(Screenshot courtesy FOX 13)

LOGAN, Utah — New research and environmental initiatives are under way to offer potential solutions to saving the Great Salt Lake.

Dr. Joanna Endter-Wada, a social scientist in Utah State University's Quinney College of Natural Resources, is conducting a major public opinion survey on policy initiatives surrounding the lake. She said overall, Utahns are very concerned about the fate of the lake.

"It’s definitely on their radar screen," she said in an interview Monday with FOX 13 News. "Ninety-five percent of the people who take the survey have already heard of the situation with the lake."

Dr. Endter-Wada shared some preliminary findings. She said people are willing to make changes in their own lives to help the Great Salt Lake — but they also want to see changes in their communities and at a state level.

"They’re willing to change their landscapes. They’re willing to conserve water on a more permanent basis, they’re willing to live within a water budget. Not everybody, but it’s interesting that people are generally inclined to want to conserve for the sake of the lake," she said. "They want their communities to take action, too, in terms of the types of developments they bring into the community, the water footprint they have."

Dr. Endter-Wada is a part of a "strike team" convened by state leaders to help come up with solutions to save the Great Salt Lake. She said the polling results so far show that whatever political leaders do — people want to see results.

"They need to know that when they conserve water it is going to help water get to the lake and not go for some other uses," she said.

The Great Salt Lake has hit a historic low this year as a result of water diversions, the mega-drought and a changing climate. Utah's political leaders have reacted with alarm, pushing money and resources into water conservation and efforts to reverse its decline. A shrinking Great Salt Lake presents some major ecological and environmental consequences — a declining snowpack, toxic dust storms, harms to public health and wildlife.

Asked if there were surprises in the responses to her research, Dr. Endter-Wada said she found hope.

"I'm encouraged and I guess the surprise in the surveys is how much people do not feel it's futile to try to save the lake," she said.

The survey is ongoing and Dr. Endter-Wada intends to complete the research in time for the Utah State Legislature to review when it convenes in January. People interested in participating in the research can click here. Dr. Endter-Wada will also be presenting some of her research on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Details on that event can be found here.

Meanwhile, a major conservation group is taking action. Ducks Unlimited confirmed to FOX 13 News it is taking steps to preserve and protect wetlands surrounding the lake by purchasing lands specifically for wetlands.

"Great Salt Lake has a strong heritage of hunting and outdoor recreational outdoor use. We don’t want to see that go away either," said Chris Sebastian, a spokesman for the conservation group.

Sebastian told FOX 13 News the group plans to fundraise to buy wetlands for preservation.

"Our conservation toolbox, if you will, involves both protection of existing wetlands that are there and working with willing landowners to buy them and protect them with easements," he said. "Also to restore wetlands where they used to be and were drained for human development."

Ducks Unlimited also plans to work with agriculture producers to get them to switch to more water-saving technologies and approaches, ensuring water gets into the Great Salt Lake.

"About 80% of the water that’s supposed to get to the Great Salt Lake is diverted before it even gets there, right?" Sebastian said. "So working with our partners, we’re looking to do things like convert earth ditches to pipe... modernizing irrigation systems on farms."

When FOX 13 News visited northern Utah farms in July, agriculture producers reported as much as 30% water savings when they switched to new technologies designed to save water. But it is very expensive to implement for farmers and ranchers. Lawmakers are expected to fund more efforts to help them make the switch.

Ducks Unlimited is fundraising for its effort to help the wetlands. They are a critical part of the ecosystem surrounding the Great Salt Lake. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, who has led a lot of the efforts to reverse the declines of the lake, praised their efforts.

"Protecting and preserving the Great Salt Lake is no small task and will require the efforts of all Utahns – individuals, businesses, and organizations. I appreciate Ducks Unlimited for recognizing their responsibility and for doing their part to raise funds and bring awareness to this pressing issue," he said in a statement to FOX 13 News.

Governor Spencer Cox also expressed support.

"We’re grateful to the many partners rallying around the Great Salt Lake. We support the Ducks Unlimited initiative and look forward to working with them to find solutions and protect this critical resource," he said in a statement released through his office.

Information on the fundraising effort can be found here.

"Wetlands improve water quality. They're Mother Nature’s kidneys as we call them," Sebastian said. "They purify and remove sediments from the lake. Wetlands efficiently use waters that come into 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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