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Cox signs new water-related legislation, speaks rosily about GSL

Ceremonial signings highlight bills covering water conservation, infrastructure and efficiency

By Rob Nielsen - | Apr 26, 2023
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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox addresses the audience during a ceremonial bill-signing event at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve near Layton on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.
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Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson sign bills during a ceremonial bill-signing event Tuesday, April 25, 2023.
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Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden, discusses House Bill 137 during a ceremonial bill-signing event Tuesday, April 25, 2023, as several sixth graders from Emerson Elementary School in Salt Lake City who helped conceive the legislation look on.
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Great Salt Lake Collaborative

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.

LAYTON — The state of Utah is looking to protect its water resources for generations to come.

On Tuesday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson were on hand at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve near Layton for a ceremonial signing of several pieces of water-related legislation covering everything from naming a coordinator for the Great Salt Lake to designating an official state crustacean.

Cox told the crowd that issues surrounding water made up a large part of the agenda in this year’s legislative session once again.

“For the second year in a row, Utah’s legislative session concluded with significant investments and a long list of bills targeting water conservation, efficiency and infrastructure — all things that are so important to us,” he said.

He said this year’s session saw more than $500 million in one-time investments and $164 million in ongoing funding toward water conservation and infrastructure — adding to the nearly $500 million in similar investments made by the Legislature last year.

Cox noted that nature has been doing its part in helping the region recover from a serious drought.

“We’re very excited to have 50 million gallons of water per day going into the Great Salt Lake,” he said. “We’ve seen that lake rise over 3.5 feet already and at least 2-4 feet to go, maybe more. … Last year at this time, 99% of the state was experiencing severe drought. Right now, only 7% of the state is experiencing severe drought.”

However, he said this is no time to relax.

“We’ve been handed a gift and this is our opportunity to take that gift and conserve it and preserve it so that we are ahead of the game instead of playing from behind where we’ve been for a couple years,” he said.

Following a short introduction, the governor went through 10 House bills and Senate bills and allowed legislators and Joel Ferry, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, to give a brief introduction for each.

H.B. 491

Among the most significant bills signed Tuesday was one to designate a Great Salt Lake commissioner.

Ferry explained the bill is an effort to streamline dealing with issues related to the lake.

“As we got into dealing with issues associated with Great Salt Lake, we recognized there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen on this subject,” he said. “We needed a central point that we could say, ‘This person is going to be responsible to help navigate us through all of the issues with Great Salt Lake.'”

He said the legislation goes beyond designating a coordinator.

“It also puts some funding towards additional efforts and initiatives on Great Salt Lake, and it helps us so we can better manage this precious resource we have here in the state,” he said.

Cox said the position will be advertised for soon with the intent of filling it by July 1.

H.B. 307

House Bill 307 — a bill on Utah waterways — was introduced by chief sponsor Rep. Calvin Musselman, R-West Haven.

According to the bill’s general description, “This bill provides for the creation of a new nonprofit, statewide partnership addressing water.”

“It’s a great way to leverage private dollars and to hopefully message in a way that’s more sophisticated and targeted so the public can understand what they can do to make a difference — specifically in their areas — as well as businesses and the farming community,” Musselman said Tuesday.

H.B. 137

Tuesday’s bill signing also recognized an effort to designate the brine shrimp the state crustacean.

H.B. 137’s chief sponsor was Rep. Rosemary Lesser, D-Ogden.

“There are so many things that are exceptional about our state, but one thing that is truly unique is that we have the only inland state with a state crustacean,” she said. “Every other state crustacean is (in a) coastal state. But since the Great Salt Lake is the largest saline lake in North America, it’s only fitting and proper that the keystone species in this lake be the state crustacean.”

However, she credited a special group of students with helping the legislation come to life.

“This is a bill that was all initiated from this amazing group of students who are sixth graders at Emerson Elementary (Salt Lake City),” she said. “They learned how a bill works all the way from the initial idea to presenting in committee to waiting for the final vote. This is great on so many levels to recognize this important species and its role in the ecosystem of this amazing Salt Lake, but also more importantly that we have a group of students who believe in our government process and learn how this all works.”

Several of those students were on hand and were able to get photos with the governor and lieutenant governor during the signing.

‘Forward thinking’

Cox said during the ceremony that the theme of all this legislation is thinking ahead.

“One of the things that I appreciate most about these bills is the way that they are forward thinking,” he said. “We’re not just thinking two years or four years ahead because of elected terms, but we are looking 20-30 years ahead and preparing for the future. We survived this drought because people made important decisions 50 years ago, 100 years ago that have helped us be where we are today. We need to make sure we’re prepared for the future.”

He elaborated on this with local media following the event.

“There are a couple of pieces here that really help us,” he said. “We have requirements now, last year and this year, for long-term planning with municipalities, with all of our water resources across the state — people that manage these water districts. They will be planning as well and coordinating that at the state level. Hiring a new person just to manage this ecosystem — the Great Salt Lake ecosystem — is going to be huge because we’ve never had that before. We’ve had people kind of doing their parts, but never in a coordinated fashion. Now someone actually gets to shepherd that water to the end of the road. All of these things are really going to help us looking forward.”

He added there will still be plenty of work to do in the future.

“What’s going to happen next is, with some of these new positions that we’ve created and some of these new plans that have been put forward, we need to let those kind of take effect and see where they’re going,” he said. “Having somebody that can start coordinating all of these different things that are happening out there will allow us an opportunity to see where those holes are. We filled a lot of those gaps, but I’m certain we’re not done yet. We’re going to need some more funding. Acquiring water rights for the Great Salt Lake is a big piece of that. We’ve done some of that, but I know we’re going to need more going forward.”

Other bills signed during Tuesday’s ceremony included:

  • H.B. 150, “Emergency Water Shortages Amendments.”
  • H.B. 450, “Landscaping Requirements.”
  • S.B. 76, “Water Amendments.”
  • S.B. 92, “Special License Plate Designation.”
  • S.B. 118, “Water Efficient Landscaping Incentives.”
  • S.B. 144, “Water Instream Flow Amendments.”
  • S.B. 277, “Water Conservation and Augmentation Amendments.”


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