Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, greets Rich Hansen, manager of the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, before taking a fan boat tour of the Great Salt Lake in Farmington Bay on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah  — Sen. Mitt Romney warned that Utah will likely have to pursue more aggressive water conservation measures in the face of the drought and a shrinking Great Salt Lake.

Utah's junior senator made the remarks in a brief interview with FOX 13 News on Monday after touring a wastewater treatment plant in South Salt Lake. Sen. Romney has pushed a bill on a federal level exploring ways to get more water into the Great Salt Lake.

But he indicated things were not moving as quickly as he would like.

"I think we're, using the pun, treading water when it comes to the Great Salt Lake. We don’t have the answer yet. We haven’t taken the really aggressive steps we're going to have to take in conservation or other major innovations to make the Great Salt Lake alive and well," he said.

Asked about those aggressive steps, Sen. Romney said: "My guess is you’re going to see us have to conserve water in a more significant way."

The Great Salt Lake has continued to decline as a result of water diversion, drought and climate change. Utah's political leaders have reacted with alarm and allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in water conservation measures and efforts to try to get water into the lake.

Sen. Romney on Monday toured the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, which treats wastewater for 601,000 people in seven different cities in the Salt Lake Valley. The plant treats as much as 60 million gallons a day that comes into the facility and exits into Mill Creek and the Jordan River, ultimately finding its way into the Great Salt Lake.

Facility general manager Phil Heck offered the tour to highlight the work they do. A major construction project is under way to upgrade the facility to handle new environmental regulations, replace aging infrastructure and deal with population growth in the Salt Lake Valley.

"We're always asking for money and they’re paying our bills. A lot of them don’t realize what we do and the magnitude of it," he said.

Taylorsville City Council member Anna Barbieri was among those on the tour.

"I don’t think we can think enough about the future and the growth in the valley and how that impacts water reclamation," she said. "How it impacts our water, the usage of water, the treatment of water and where it’s going from there."

The project itself is running about $43 million short due in part to increased construction and supply costs. Because the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility is not a county or a city government entity (it's technically a "single-purpose entity") it cannot dip into federal funding sources. Part of the tour was to see if Sen. Romney and others might be able help.

"If we can’t get any grant funding we will have to go back out for another bond issue," said Heck, who added that requires all seven cities to pass it.

Sen. Romney said the bipartisan infrastructure that Congress passed might be able to assist the facility.

"There’s no question in passing the infrastructure bill, we’re focused on being able to provide for states and communities so they can meet the need of a drying, drought-infested area," he said.

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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