The Great Salt Lake Collaborative is a group of news, education and media organizations – including The Globe, Amplify Utah and student journalists at Salt Lake Community College – that have come together to better inform and engage the public about the crisis facing the Great Salt Lake.
The following story was originally published by FOX 13, a collaborative partner.
Mitigating dust from a shrinking Great Salt Lake could cost more than a billion dollars to fix, a new report from the Utah State Legislature’s Auditor General found.
Tucked in an audit on critical state needs, FOX 13 News found a footnote in a section on Utah’s water demands referencing the exposed lake bed. It said that “dust mitigation” from an exposed lake bed could cost taxpayers at least $1.5 billion to fix with ongoing annual maintenance of $15 million.
“Those estimates skyrocket if costs and affected surface area increase,” the audit said.
The audit’s findings concerned newly appointed Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed.
“I think all Utahns have to be concerned that if we don’t do the right things now, we’re paying much higher costs later,” he told FOX 13 News. “That’s why we need to get ahead of it and make sure the Great Salt Lake is healthy today.”
Scientists have warned that with an exposed lake bed, Utahns in populated areas around the lake would be at risk of exposure to toxic minerals — including arsenic — that are naturally occurring in the Great Salt Lake. The solution, they have argued, is getting more water into the lake to cover it and to prevent it from blowing into communities.
House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, told FOX 13 News on Tuesday he was very concerned about the dust issue for many reasons.
“That dust blows off the lake bed, crosses the Wasatch Front, which we all breathe… then it goes up in the mountains and attaches itself to our snowpack. It turns the snowpack brown, which then actually speeds [up] the process and makes our snowpack melt faster. So, there’s a whole bunch of problems with the dust we’re trying to work through; understand those problems and the best way to mitigate [them],” he said.
Asked if the best way to mitigate is to just get more water into the lake, Rep. Schultz replied, “That’s the best way.”
A lawsuit was recently filed against the state, accusing political leaders of not doing enough to save the Great Salt Lake. Environmental groups, who are plaintiffs in the litigation, have expressed frustration at what they view as not concrete enough action to help the Great Salt Lake.
Asked about the litigation at the Utah State Legislature’s interim session in St. George, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, defended lawmakers’ actions.
“Anyone can file a lawsuit for any purpose, and I think it would be disingenuous to say the legislature has not done a tremendous amount over the last few years around water. Well over $1 billion in the last three years around water, and the Great Salt Lake is a major beneficiary of that. Washington County is a big beneficiary of that, too,” he said Monday.
The Speaker said the Great Salt Lake will be a major beneficiary of agriculture optimization, which received a $276 million investment from lawmakers this year. That’s new technology to get farmers to switch to newer, water-saving technologies.
Grants for agriculture optimization are starting to be rolled out.
Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he appreciated the concerns of environmental groups about the Great Salt Lake, but “in my opinion, rather than file a lawsuit, let’s roll up our sleeves and help fix it.”