Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner
The Great Salt Lake near Antelope Island is photographed April 23, 2022.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Not every initiative to help bolster water levels in the drying Great Salt Lake is coming out of Utah.

A pair of federal measures driven by Utah’s delegation to Washington, D.C., and aimed at safeguarding the lake, now at its lowest-ever recorded level, are also edging ahead.

measure in the U.S. House put forward by U.S. Rep. Blake Moore — the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act — passed in the House on Friday. Another plan introduced by U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney passed muster in the Senate on Thursday. Both call for study of the Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the Great Basin with an eye to identification of possible measures to keep them from drying up.

“The Great Salt Lake is a quandary and it’s a big problem how low it is right now. It’s getting worse and worse. We’ve got to take an all-of-the-above approach,” Moore told the Standard-Examiner. That is, every effort to help the Great Salt Lake counts and should be considered, in his view.

Moore’s measure, which received unanimous backing last November from the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, allocates $5 million for study of the Great Salt Lake and other Great Basin saline lakes by the U.S. Geological Survey. Romney’s measure calls for allocation of $10 million for study of the saline lakes in the Great Basin by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Great Basin extends into portions of Utah, Nevada, California and Oregon.

The work of the two lawmakers “perfectly complements our work with the Utah legislature to make historic changes to state water law and dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to save the Great Salt Lake and improve water conservation throughout Utah,” Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement after Moore’s measure passed.

Romney said Thursday that passage of his measure, the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act, “highlights the sense of urgency that is needed if we are going to preserve and protect this critical body of water for many generations to come.”

Not everyone is jumping up and down, though, as the parallel measures wind through Congress.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, an advocacy group that calls for conservation of the state’s waterways, laments that Utah politicos have done too much talking about conserving the Great Salt Lake and not enough acting.

“The idea that we need another study to take action is kind of ludicrous,” he said. “We are acting like we don’t know what to do. It’s pretty damn simple — the lake needs water.”

Despite talk among Utah’s leaders of safeguarding the Great Salt Lake and trying to boost its water level, he doesn’t see concrete steps in that direction. “It’s so obvious — the lake has not been protected,” he said.

Moore, though, touted the import of a “data-driven” approach to salvaging the Great Salt Lake.

“This study will provide that framework for what can be hopefully a consensus-driven effort going forward,” he said. “It’s a small investment to make sure that we get some good data to continue on the efforts that the (Utah) state Legislature and the governor are already working on.”

Likewise, Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said Moore’s measure would help bolster understanding of the Great Salt Lake and how to protect it.

Romney, for his part, said the Senate measure would look into possible technological fixes to redirect water to the lake, including pipelines and canal reinforcement.

Next, both measures need support from the opposite congressional chambers. Reps. Chris Stewart, Burgess Owens and John Curtis, Utah GOPers, will lead the companion legislation to Romney’s measure in the House.

Moore, meantime, said he’s been working with other members of Congress to muster support. The plight of the Great Salt Lake isn’t necessarily front and center to others outside Utah, even if it’s a huge topic within Utah.

“Not that many members of Congress understand what’s going on with the Great Salt Lake,” Moore said.

Though both measures call for study of saline lakes across the Great Basin, Moore said the Great Salt Lake’s future is the impetus behind his measure, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat.

“I just know this was the driving force to make this initiative happen. A lot of the advocacy groups recognized the Great Salt Lake and its importance. This was a key driver for making this whole bill happen,” he said.

Standard-Examiner Reporter
I write about Ogden, North Ogden, Roy, Weber County, immigration and development for the Standard-Examiner of Ogden, Utah. I knock on doors, scour government documents, crunch data, give voice to those left out. I follow the explosive growth -- and the ramifications of it -- that has characterized Weber County and beyond, one of the key issues facing the Wasatch Front. Communication in such rapidly changing times is of utmost import. I'm adept with social media, photography and numbers. I speak Spanish, make graphics, shoot videos.

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