1. On a scale of 1 to 10, with the many city priorities you will face as mayor, where do you rank the Great Salt Lake and why?

 The threatened GSL ranks as a top priority. That would be a 1 if that’s “top priority” or 10 if that’s “top priority.”

The complete desiccation of the Great Salt Lake would be devastating to SLC residents and businesses because metals, including antimony, copper, zirconium, and arsenic, from the dry lake bed will blow into the city, resulting in heightened risks of severe respiratory illnesses, heart disease, lung disease, and cancers. The cascading effects would undermine, and perhaps entirely destroy, our neighborhoods, economic vitality, and overall quality of life. 

The dust could lead to degradation of soil and speed snow melt, shortening winter sports seasons and reducing water supply later in the year. It would severely damage valuable wetlands, eliminate brine flies (vital in the ecosystem), devastate the conditions upon which brine shrimp (which add $10-60 million to the economy) can exist, and threaten millions of migratory birds. As Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, stated, “Protecting and preserving the Great Salt Lake is a top priority for the state. The lake is vital to the environment, ecology and economy, not just in Utah but also to the western United States.” Found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/drying-great-salt-lake-could-expose-millions-to-toxic-arsenic-laced-dust-180981439/#:~:text=As%20the%20lakebed%20becomes%20exposed,disease%2C%20lung%20disease%20and%20cancers. 

2. What’s your plan for assisting in saving the Great Salt Lake—what actions will you take to ensure more water makes it to the lake in the future?

I would change policy and practices dramatically, making it clear to the public this is an urgent matter of life and death for many of us, as well as our beloved city. 

Although individual conservation efforts are important for dealing with droughts, the Great Salt Lake will survive only if far less water is diverted for agricultural purposes. Under my leadership, SLC will create a coalition with surrounding communities to pursue legal remedies, legislation, and public policy changes to protect the public interest in water conservation. 

Additionally, as I have done at my own home, turf should be eliminated or minimized. We should do everything possible to create a public and personal ethic of water conservation, including advertising campaigns and public challenges, raising awareness of the disastrous impacts of continued poor stewardship of the Great Salt Lake.

I would also restore SLC’s position as an international climate protection leader, as when I was mayor. https://www.rocky4mayor.com/environmental-and-smart-growth-leadership-494969.html We have been on notice for many years that continued reliance on burning fossil fuels will lead to a significant decrease in the water volume of the Great Salt Lake and dangerously high salinity, threatening brine shrimp and flies. Effective, urgent action is critical.

3. What actions have you taken in the past to help protect the lake? 

The Great Salt Lake is at risk, in large part, because of the climate crisis. As Utah scientists stated in a 2007 Scientific Consensus Report (found at https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=1158936), “As temperature increases, . . . expected declines in mountain snowpack will likely lead to lower average lake levels and increased average salinity unless average winter precipitation increases.”  I participated on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change, which led to the above-referenced scientific report. 

SLC won the World Leadership Award in London for our innovative environmental programs and I received the EPA's Climate Protection Award. We reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 31% in city operations in three years. To expand our successes globally, I presented in several nations and in numerous states on how our successes could be replicated by other cities. (A video I prepared regarding effective leadership on climate protection can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4j7F-AHA4jU .) For three years, I joined with Robert Redford and ICLEI (on whose Board of Directors I was a member) to host dozens of mayors to learn about the climate crisis, municipal best practices for reducing GHGs, and how best to communicate about climate issues to local residents. 

4. How do you view the inland port projects and the impact it may have on the lake?

The Inland port project, as well as the alarming satellite port projects, raise tremendous concerns for the lake and its surroundings. The proposed port will deteriorate our air quality, increase greenhouse gas emissions, create noise and light pollution with an expanded rail and trucking infrastructure, exacerbate our already congested traffic, severely damage precious wetlands, and harm critical wildlife habitats surrounding the GSL, home to millions of birds representing over 200 species.

As I stated for a newspaper article on the Inland Port: “The inland port is a creation by people who oftentimes simply bow down to developers who have a lot of short-term money to bank off projects like this without any consideration for the long-term, negative effects. Or the impacts to the public interest for generations. This is such a horrible idea on so many levels. For a democracy to work, people need to know what their government is doing. And right now, I don’t think most people have any idea about who is bound to benefit from the inland port . . .” “ ‘Such a horrible idea on so many levels’—former SLC Mayor Rocky Anderson rails against inland port,” found at https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2022/03/07/such-horrible-idea-so/

5. What do you want residents under your watch to do to help save the lake?

We each have a responsibility to live sustainably and protect the environment––as I have by taking transit, driving low- or no-emissions cars for 22 years, having zero turf at my home, and relying solely on solar power, with surplus electricity added to the grid. 

The city has a responsibility to support conservation by educating and setting an example. Sprinklers running full blast on Washington Square during rainstorms will not happen when I’m mayor. Our government officials need to walk the talk.

To achieve necessary changes for saving the GSL, we must recognize that even if every household permanently stopped watering lawns, that would not be a major factor in saving the GSL. While alfalfa farming represents only 0.2% of the Utah economy, it uses 68% of available water. 

The most critical action that residents can take is to effectively push their elected officials and other policy-makers at every level of government to take necessary measures immediately to sufficiently reduce the diversion of water for agricultural purposes. Besides the measures described in response to the next question (Question #6), we should all vigorously oppose the proposed Parley’s Canyon mine, which will use significant amounts of water to suppress dust. 

6. What should the state and federal government do to help save the lake?

The greatest threat to the Great Salt Lake is the diversion of water for agricultural uses, particularly alfalfa farming, which uses 68% of available water. The state and federal government can save the lake by prohibiting unnecessary agricultural crops, like alfalfa, which comprises only 0.2% of our economy. About one-third of alfalfa grown in Utah is exported to China, at tremendous environmental and humanitarian cost to our state. 

Utah and the federal government should set two concrete mandatory goals: (1) Curb water consumption in the state by a third to a half, allowing 2.5 million acre feet of water to travel into the GSL from streams and rivers for at least two years. (2) Bring the elevation of the GSL surface to 4,200 feet above sea level. 

The Utah Legislature should also update water laws and eliminate the “use it or lose it” policies that contribute to water waste. The Utah Legislature should also preempt local laws that require residents and businesses to have turf. 

The Utah Legislature needs to finally recognize the findings of the 2007 Scientific Consensus Report, written by top Utah scientists, and end the support and encouragement for fossil fuel use and extraction throughout the state. 

7. Because treated wastewater is an important source of water to Great Salt Lake, in some cases, water recycling and water conservation methods that are effective elsewhere can actually decrease the flow of water to the lake. What initiatives do you envision for encouraging sustainable water use while also protecting the supply of water to Great Salt Lake?

Water recycling, which is a “diversion” of water that would otherwise flow to the Great Salt Lake, could decrease the depth of the Great Salt Lake by 10 feet or more. The Utah Legislature passed legislation restricting water reuse in future developments in northern Utah. It should restrict water reuse of any sort, anywhere the water would otherwise eventually flow to the Great Salt Lake. 

Instead of responding to the market for treated wastewater, reselling for profit, the city should dedicate the water rights in perpetuity to the GSL. While the Utah Constitution may currently prohibit this, legal pressure needs to be imposed on the state legislature to ensure that we support the GSL for the future, or the viability of the largest region in Utah will be at enormous risk. 

8. How would the depletion of the Great Salt Lake affect the future of your city?

The depletion of the Great Salt Lake would severely undermine the quality of life in Salt Lake City. Residents will leave to avoid the high risk of poisoning, adverse health effects, and continued declines in property values. 

The poor air quality in the SLC area decreases life spans, on average, by about two years. The depletion of the GSL will ensure even shorter lives. 

SLC will not be able to attract, and will lose, businesses. Regional recreation and economic drivers, like winter sports, will wither, because of early snow melts. Our city will be irrevocably altered, much like what is anticipated with the ongoing desiccation of Lake Urmia in Iran. 

The dreaded complete desiccation of Lake Urmia poses a significant risk of mass migration from the region. The same dangers are posed by the desiccation of the Great Salt Lake. A similar conflict is at play regarding Lake Urmia as with the GSL. As one environment official said, “Iran’s Lake Urmia will dry out completely if rescue efforts are not prioritized over the needs of farmers in the drought gripping the region.”  Found at https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/09/lake-urmia-risks-fully-drying-iran-wetlands-chief. We must prioritize rescue efforts in relation to the GSL over the needs of farmers. 

9. What does sustainable development mean to you, and what do you see as your role in ensuring that future development is sustainable?

Sustainable development is an approach that meets today’s needs while protecting the interests of future generations, nurturing the health of our planet. The goal is to ensure well-being for all living things and the environment, now and in the future.

My role as mayor will be to approach sustainability issues in the same way I did during my eight years in office. Sustainability was at the heart of all we did. We kept and will keep foremost in mind the Seventh Generation Principle of the Iroquois: “The decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.” My history as mayor demonstrates concrete successes (e.g., a 31% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from city operations) based on a pragmatic, visionary commitment to sustainability. 

I will restore SLC to being a national and international leader on climate protection and restorative justice. I will preserve and expand open spaces in our city, not allowing development to destroy it, as at present. I will aggressively fight against sprawl development. I will fight in every way to make an emergency response to the Great Salt Lake crisis a priority over the interests of farmers, particularly those growing alfalfa. 

10. What is your personal relationship/history to the Great Salt Lake?

The Great Salt Lake has been ever-present in my life. I’ve been on the lake sailing and always moved by the beauty and magnificent presence of the GSL. As with the looming spectacular mountains surrounding us, the Great Salt Lake feels like a dependable old friend. 

My relationship with the GSL has been far more intense since I first learned about the threat of a major disaster facing our region because of a long-time failure to exercise wise, informed stewardship of the lake and its water sources. 

The lake has now become a driving passion of mine, not unlike my obsession with the climate crisis for over 30 years. 

I will do whatever it takes, including mobilizing young people and others, to save our GSL and not allow those who have dithered thus far to put our city and its residents at risk of disaster because of short-term interests in alfalfa farming. 

Those who have the power to make a real difference must be effectively persuaded to prioritize the urgent need to return the GSL to its safe water volume over the interests of farmers whose water use has led to the imminent threat of devastation for all of us. 

Salt Lake City Mayoral Candidate

Related Articles