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Rep. Blake Moore’s measure to protect Great Salt Lake gets backing

By Tim Vandenack - | Nov 18, 2021

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

In this on May 4, 2021, photo, the Great Salt Lake recedes from Antelope Island, near Salt Lake City.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the long-term health of the Great Salt Lake up for debate, a measure aimed at safeguarding such saline lake ecosystems has received unanimous backing from the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.

U.S. Rep. Blake Moore, who represents Northern Utah and belongs to the committee, introduced the measure last September, joined by several other western lawmakers. Following Wednesday’s unanimous vote of support by the Natural Resources Committee, the measure — the Saline Lake Econosystems in the Great Basin States Program Act — goes to the full House for consideration.

“The value of Utah’s Great Salt Lake and its neighboring, regional saline lakes cannot be overstated,” Moore said in a statement. “These lakes provide habitats for millions of migrating shorebirds and waterfowl and they are critically important for Utah’s brine shrimp industry, ski industry, broader recreation industry, water users, extraction industry and more.”

The Great Salt Lake’s water level has gradually declined over the years, prompting alarm among many, and the issue received widespread attention last July when the lake dipped to its lowest level on record. Moore’s measure, if it eventually passes, would provide resources to more closely monitor and assess saline systems like the Great Salt Lake with an eye to establishing conservation efforts to preserve them. It would earmark $5 million a year for fiscal years 2022-2027 for the efforts.

The measure covers saline lakes in the Great Basin, which extends into Utah, California, Nevada and Oregon. A press release from Moore’s office underscored the potential import to birds, noting that the Great Basin contains habitats “for millions of migrating shorebirds, waterbirds and waterfowl.”

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

A Pelican floats on Farmington Bay near the Great Salt Lake Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Farmington, Utah. The lake has been shrinking for years, and a drought gripping the American West could make this year the worst yet. The receding water is already affecting nesting pelicans that are among millions of birds dependent on the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River.

Declining water levels “due to demand, drought and environmental changes have dried out these important lakes within the Great Basin, threatening habitats, public health and recreation,” said the statement.

The proposal has the backing of numerous organizations, including the National Audubon Society, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake, Compass Minerals and more.

“Preserving the gifts that Great Salt Lake provides can secure the future of local communities, our economy and businesses, as well as migratory birds and other wildlife,” reads an October endorsement letter from the groups.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox also supports the measure. “The legislation dovetails well with our efforts to increase water conservation through a variety of strategies, including secondary water metering, optimizing agricultural use of water, eliminating municipal requirements for grass on parking strips and a turf grass buyback program,” Cox said in his own endorsement letter dated Nov. 4.

U.S. Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Jeff Merkley of Oregon would advocate for the measure in the Senate. “The unanimous passage through the House Natural Resources Committee proved that it enjoys broad bipartisan support,” said Moore’s spokesperson, Caroline Tucker.

Photo supplied

U.S. Rep. Blake Moore represents Utah's 1st District.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, introduced the measure with Moore, a Salt Lake City GOPer.

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