(Screenshot courtesy FOX 13)

SALT LAKE CITY — House and Senate leaders will unveil a series of bills next week aimed at water conservation and the Great Salt Lake.

"That will be a big policy and a big funding priority for us," House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told reporters on Friday.

Speaker Wilson has personally championed saving the Great Salt Lake. Last year, the lake hit its lowest point in recorded history. While recent winter storms have added a foot of new water to the lake, there still is a long ways to go. A declining lake presents an environmental catastrophe for Utah with reduced snowpack, toxic dust storms and impacts to public health, wildlife and the economy.

Lawmakers are expected to spend upwards of $500 million on water conservation and Great Salt Lake measures this year. The bills were still in the drafting process, but Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said they would be important.

"Stay tuned, is that what you say?" he said Friday.

Saving the Great Salt Lake has been a public priority. Hundreds rallied on the steps of the Utah State Capitol to demand action. Governor Spencer Cox has vowed the lake will not dry up on his watch.

Asked by FOX 13 News if measures will be taken specifically to get water into the Great Salt Lake, Speaker Wilson replied: "We’re continuing to work with water districts to have water released to the Great Salt Lake ... the water conservation bills will ultimately do that, so that is the strategy."

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said one bill that will be considered would prohibit future water re-use projects in northern Utah. While they are effective in southern Utah, he said it would actually harm the Great Salt Lake.

"We turn on the tap in our house and we use water and we think that's not going where we're wasting it," Rep. Schultz said. "We need to realize almost every ounce of water we use indoor ends up in the Great Salt Lake."

Other bills currently in the Utah State Legislature include incentives to convince people to ditch "non-functional turf" (which is lawn you don't really use); money for agriculture optimization to help farmers and ranchers switch to water-saving technologies; paying farmers not to grow certain crops; efforts to get schools to cut water use; a resolution setting a target water level goal and a bill to dip into sales tax money to fund Great Salt Lake preservation efforts.

A bill that would have required golf courses in Utah to track and make public how much water they use has stalled. Rep. Doug Welton, R-Payson, said currently some golf courses do track their water use while other's don't. His bill was held in committee after he was accused of trying to "shame" golf courses.

In an interview Friday with FOX 13 News, Rep. Welton said his legislation was about transparency and accountability for taxpayers.

"We're in an environment where we’re looking to spend half a billion dollars on saving the Great Salt Lake, we've been in a 1,200 year drought according to scientists. We’re just looking to make positive changes without the heavy hand of the law," he said.

Rep. Welton said it was his hope the legislation could move forward.

"I would love to see it reconsidered," 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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