homepage logo

Wilson: Great Salt Lake mitigation efforts could take a couple of decades

By Deborah Wilber - | Nov 9, 2022
1 / 4
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson answers questions about the state of the Great Salt Lake during the Walker Civic Symposium at Weber State University on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.
2 / 4
Skyler Pyle, second from right, sits with her family during the Walker Civic Symposium on the state of the Great Salt Lake at Weber State University on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.
3 / 4
Attendees of the Walker Civic Symposium on the state of the Great Salt Lake are pictured at Weber State University on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.
4 / 4
Weber State University environmental science student Olivia Thomas poses a question to House Speaker Brad Wilson on the possibility of pumping seawater into the Great Salt Lake through an expensive process called desalination during the Walker Civic Symposium at WSU on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

Editor’s note: This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

OGDEN — With approximately 1,500 square miles of exposed lake bed along the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, Utah policymakers continue to scramble to save the Great Salt Lake from its desperate state.

In a Walker Civic Symposium talk on the state of the lake at Weber State University on Friday, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said conservation efforts passed during the last legislative session to get water levels at the lake back to where they used to be are probably going to take a couple of decades.

Speaking during the symposium, native Utahn Skyler Pyle said she fears there is no time to wait for mitigation measures, which she said should have been taken long ago.

According to Wilson, 80% of Utahns share Pyle’s concern with the state of the lake.

“I can’t believe 80% of people could agree on anything in today’s world,” Wilson said.

Pyle said she and her family have begun looking to relocate outside of Utah as areas of exposed lake bed will dry, erode and eventually kick up toxic dust into the air, exposing the public to hazardous substances such as arsenic, lithium and magnesium among others.

According to Great Salt Lake Resolution Steering Group, the economic, environmental and human health costs associated with the loss or degradation of terminal lake systems worldwide — including the Aral Sea, Lake Urmia and Owens Lake among many others — is a stark warning of serious harms that will occur if the Great Salt Lake continues to decline.

Declared to be the source of the worst dust problem in the nation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the dry lakebed of Owens Lake in California has produced hazardous air with mitigation costs estimated to reach $3.6 billion by 2025.

Wilson said the state and the Utah Legislature have made saving the lake a top priority by addressing water for agriculture use as well as receiving 30,000 metered feet of water from two of the main water districts in Northern Utah three weeks ago, which will be pumped into the lake.

Water received reportedly comes as a result of water conservation efforts put in place to reduce outside water use such as the Flip Your Strip program and water meters.

“As soon as we started metering secondary water that we pay a flat rate for, there has been a 30% reduction in secondary water use,” Wilson said.

Even with all the conservation and mitigation efforts well in place, with eight bills passed last legislative session specifically targeting the Great Salt Lake, Wilson said it is going to take a long time to see water levels return to a heathy state.

While lake levels did hit a low in the 1960s — and have been surpassed each of the past two years — Wilson said he wants people to understand there is a difference between a trend and a cycle.

Throughout the years, Wilson said there have been times of dry cycles and wet cycles. However, the 20-year drought much of the west is currently experiencing is, in fact, a trend of having less and less moisture, he added.

Wilson left those attending his brief talk on Friday with some optimism, saying not all is lost as he believes Utahans can and will work together to save the vital natural resource.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)