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SALT LAKE CITY — The fight to save the drought-challenged Great Salt Lake in Utah and other saline lakes in the West advanced earlier this week with passage of a legislative measure in a congressional committee.
Sponsored by Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, the Saline Lake Ecosystems in the bipartisan Great Basin States Program Act passed the House Committee on Natural Resources with unanimous support.
Moore, along with co-sponsor Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., aims to help ailing saline lakes in the Great Basin region that includes Utah, Oregon and California, with an eye toward boosting scientific monitoring, improved conservation and helping the millions of birds that depend on the lakes for their habitat.
Utah's Great Salt Lake is a huge economic driver for the state, supporting multiple critical industries and an active ecosystem that as a saline lake plays a unique role in the state.
Beyond that, the lake is a contributor in Utah of complex meteorology patterns, delivering so-called "lake effect" snow and lending itself to the formation of ozone as sunlight bounces off the water.
Since Latter-day Saint pioneers entered Utah, however, diversions have challenged the Great Salt Lake's levels and drought has reduced it to a much smaller version of itself.
That brings complications on a variety of fronts, including wind-whipped dust from its exposed lake bed that not only harms public health with exposed toxins, but has a far-reaching effect with dust on snow that accelerates snowmelt and threatens a thriving ski industry.
Moore's legislation would provide the U.S. Geological Survey — in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tribal, state, academic and nonprofit organizations — resources to conduct scientific monitoring and assessments to establish effective management and conservation efforts to preserve essential saline lake habitats within the Great Basin network.
"The value of Utah's Great Salt Lake and its neighboring, regional saline lakes cannot be overstated," Moore said.
"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. I introduced this bill to help us study and better understand what is happening in our saline lake ecosystems to ensure that our water users, animals, habitats, and industry can stay healthy far into the future."
His legislation follows a resolution unanimously passed by the Utah Legislature in 2019 and also has the support of Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.
"Your bill helps us take a step back and assess the needs of the Great Salt Lake and related saline ecosystems. It would wisely task the U.S. Geological Survey with evaluating the challenge and coordinating with other federal agencies and states, tribes, universities, nonprofits, and other stakeholders to develop a solution," the governor wrote.
Cox said it is critical in these times of drought to work to save the Great Salt Lake.
"I hope these strategies and the water they conserve will allow us to preserve the extraordinary benefits of the Great Salt Lake, even during an extended drought."
Moore said the legislation, which enjoys bipartisan support, is an example of where members of Congress can collaborate and agree on issues of importance — despite much of the noise to the contrary.
"This is the way it should work," said the freshman congressman. "There is a lot of good that can come out of this."
Moore added that the bill also has the support of multiple organizations, including the National Audubon Society, Compass Minerals, Trout Unlimited, Rio Tinto Kennecott, the Utah Waterfowl Association, the Utah Airboat Association, the Utah Wetlands Foundation, The Nature Conservancy in Utah, Friends of Great Salt Lake, the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, the Great Salt Lake Brine Shrimp Cooperative and the Utah Audubon Council.