“He’s completely dead wrong about what we did and the impact it’s going to have on the lake,” said Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican, saying Abbott was an “alarmist.”
“This is year two of what I think is going to have to be a 10-year effort,” Wilson said. “We accomplished everything we set out to do and more. “I feel very good about the work we did and the progress we have made with the lake.”
Last autumn, Great Salt Lake’s water level reached an all time low. Even more concerning was the rise in lake salinity. Scientists aren’t sure how long the organisms at the bottom of the food chain — brine shrimps and brineflies — can survive.
In January, Abbott and other scientists and conservationists released a report saying the lake needed “emergency measures” to stop the “ongoing collapse” and that the “lake as we know it is on track to disappear in five years.”
The consequences are huge.
Each year, some 10 million migratory birds — of more than 300 species — depend on the lake’s habitat to survive. Low water levels pose a threat to several industries. These include mining companies who evaporate lake brine in order to extract metals, and commercial farmers that raise brine shrimp for aquaculture.
As the lake dries, more harmful dust will be blowing into the communities around the lake. Because the dust is high in toxic metals ., scientists are worried.
Scientists and politicians believe this winter will be the turning point.
Utah’s accounts were stocked with unexpected revenues ,, and legislators promised that they would lavish generously spend on the lake. Lake levels saw a rise after the good snowyear.
In his budget, Cox proposed that Utah spend more than $560 million on water improvements, including $100 million to address the emergency and buy short-term agricultural water leases and “shepherd” that water to the Great Salt Lake.
When the legislative dust settled in March, lawmakers agreed to spend well north of $400 million in ongoing and one-time funding for the Great Salt Lake and water conservation, according to a list of budget appropriations.
Lawmakers used $200 million to fund a program to optimize agricultural water use and invested in cloud seeding and water measuring infrastructure. They funded dust and air quality studies and created a new state office: the Great Salt Lake commissioner.
Lawmakers passed a bill to encourage sod removal and efficient landscaping, a bill to ban water reuse in the Great Salt Lake Basin so more water flows into the lake, and a bill to ensure the state has emergency powers if ecological or salinity thresholds are crossed.
Lawmakers chose not to set a specific target for lake levels or spend millions of dollars to boost lake levels by buying up short-term water rights.
Some people argued that such emergency measures were unnecessary.
” We had an emergency plan that would have allowed enough water to be pumped into the lake. state Senator Scott Sandall stated during a recording media event . “Mother Nature helped us out. We didn’t have to pull that lever for emergency use.”
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