(Screenshot courtesy FOX 13)

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of reports prepared for Governor Spencer Cox's administration and the Utah State Legislature call for increased efforts to save water and protect the Great Salt Lake.

On Thursday, Utah State University's Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water & Air presented a legislatively-mandated report on the state of Utah's environment to the governor.

"The kind of growth we’re experiencing now, and being in the constraints of the system we’re in, there’s going to be challenges," said Brian Steed, the institute's director.

The USU report found a number of successes and challenges in Utah's environment. Overall, air quality has improved along the Wasatch Front, but summertime ozone remains a threat. The Uintah Basin has seen declines in its ozone problems.

Utah has seen precipitation declines since 1950, the report said. Meanwhile, temperatures in the state have only gotten hotter and Utah. The state is also seeing more rain than snow, Steed said.

Water seemed to present the biggest challenges for the state, with researchers for the institute arguing that the shrinking Great Salt Lake presented the biggest threat to public health and the environment. The report warned of the impacts of water levels dropping to new lows and the increasing threat of toxic dust storms.

"Honestly we’re not seeing huge inflows into the lake anymore. That’s because humans are using a lot of it. As a result of that, we’re seeing these diminishing lake levels. That’s going to have huge consequences," Steed told FOX 13 News.

The Great Salt Lake has dropped to its lowest level in recorded history as a result of water diversion, drought and the impacts of a changing climate. USU's study found 23 of the last 30 years have resulted in net water losses for the Great Salt Lake as a result of water diversion. Emergency water releases have been taking place upstream to try to prop up the lake.

USU researchers urged further conservation measures and efforts to get agriculture — the top water user in the state — to switch to new technologies that help with crops and save water. Agriculture optimization has already resulted in significant water savings where it has been implemented, but it is also expensive. The Utah State Legislature is expected to increase the amount of incentives offered.

"Providing some of the tools so they can make investments in water savings is something farmers want to do," said Matt Hargraves with the Utah Farm Bureau.

The governor said USU's report will help the legislature and his administration try to help the state's environment.

"Every one of us can do something about this," he said. "Whether you’re a farmer, whether you have a lawn."

Gov. Cox's office released its own report on the water situation in Utah, echoing the recommendations made by USU. The governor prioritized investments in water infrastructure, conservation, agriculture optimization and healthy watersheds.

The governor's action plan noted that some ideas are in conflict with other state policies. For example, water re-use can be beneficial to stretch water supplies, but may ultimately harm Great Salt Lake levels.

Chandler Rosenberg with the group Save Our Great Salt Lake, said neither report explicitly said how water from any newly-enacted measures get into the lake.

"I think nothing matters on the legislative level unless it’s getting permanent water flowing into the Great Salt Lake," she said. "We need water in the lake and anything less than that is a failure."

Joel Ferry, the head of Utah's Department of Natural Resources, said he believed the conservation efforts would benefit the lake.

"The inherent result of conservation is water will get to the lake," he said.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

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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