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Davis Journal

Great Salt Lake Water Trust program getting underway

Jul 05, 2022 12:11PM ● By Tom Haraldsen

The Great Salt Lake Wetlands will be part of preservation efforts from a water trust fund. Photo courtesy of Laura Vernon, Forestry Fire State Lands

(Editor’s Note – This is one of our continuing series of stories as part of our Davis Journal Water Watchers campaign)

The first step in working to preserve and benefit the future of the Great Salt Lake has begun. The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands has given the National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy $40 million in grants as appropriated during the 2022 Utah Legislature to implement a water trust for the GLS.

The trust will be used to enhance water quantity and water quality, with at least 25% of the funding used to protect and restore wetlands habitat to benefit the hydrology of Great Salt Lake. 

“Great Salt Lake has dropped below historic low water levels, threatening the health of Wasatch Front residents, the future of key Utah industries, and the survival of millions of migratory shorebirds and other wildlife,” said Jamie Barnes, FFSL director. “This trust dedicates significant funding and establishes a partnership to tackle ongoing challenges like drought and increasing water demands. Utahns need collective, watershed-wide solutions before it’s too late.”

The trust was created as part of HB140 from this year’s legislature, which Gov. Spencer Cox signed on March 21. It was part of a wide range of other conservation measures and funding initiatives adopted by the 2022 Utah Legislature.

“Today’s selection of Audubon and TNC as co-managers of the Great Salt Lake Water Trust reflects both organizations’ scientific expertise, non-profit credibility, commitment to collaboration, and long-standing conservation record at Great Salt Lake,” House Speaker Brad Wilson said in a release. “The establishment of the Great Salt Lake Water Trust is a crucial step in preserving the lake and its wetlands for the future of Utah.”

Experts agree that ensuring water flows to Great Salt Lake and its wetlands over the long term is the single most important strategy to prevent further drying of the lake. With the ongoing drought and water supply pressures, lasting solutions will take time and require concerted action. Along with water policy changes made over the last few years, water conservation efforts and funding in 2022, the new trust will help advance projects and voluntary transactions to retain or enhance water flows to the lake and improve or preserve wetlands and important hydrologic connections. 

Barnes said that as part of the grant decision-making process, FFSL worked with the Utah Division of Water Quality and the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council. Over the next few weeks and months, FFSL will be working with Audubon and TNC to develop agreements to establish the trust, launch outreach to partners and begin implementing program goals. λ