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Opinion: When the last laugh is no laughing matter — our climate crisis response

Why did we wait so long to act on the shrinking Great Salt Lake? The options left are costly for this dire emergency

SHARE Opinion: When the last laugh is no laughing matter — our climate crisis response
Record low water levels are seen in the Great Salt Lake from Antelope Island.

Record low water levels are seen in the Great Salt Lake from Antelope Island on Friday, July 22, 2022. Sen. Mitt Romney’s plan to build a pipeline from the Pacific to the Great Salt Lake is moving forward.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In March 2019, Sen. Mike Lee took to the Senate floor and mocked Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the Green New Deal legislation. Lee said, “The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution … the solution to so many of our problems at all times and in all places is to fall in love, get married, and have some kids.”

Fast-forward just three years, Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez may have had the last laugh. Except, what’s happening with the Great Salt Lake is no laughing matter. 

Last week, both Sens. Lee and Mitt Romney voted for the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act — which would appropriate $10 million to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pursue a feasibility study for a 700-plus-mile pipeline from Utah to the Pacific Ocean, according to Romney’s website. A companion bill sponsored by Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens still stand before the House.

For several years, many Democrats, including former Vice President Al Gore, have been sounding the alarm for the impacts of climate change and pleaded with our Republican lawmakers to take it seriously. They were laughed at.

The pipeline Romney is proposing it will be expensive and time consuming to build, but the Great Salt Lake is out of time. It requires a solution now. If the Great Salt Lake goes dry during this megadrought, this beloved body of water could go extinct and make the Salt Lake Valley unlivable. 

Additionally, without the lake effect from the Great Salt Lake, the Wasatch Mountains will become desolate. Presently, at only two-thirds of its historic size, 48% of the lakebed is already dry. Millions of residents are already exposed to harmful chemicals every time the wind blows. 

However, scientists believe we still have time to reverse course. To save the lake requires all of us to make tremendous long-term sacrifices to reduce our water consumption and partner with neighboring states and tribal leaders. We cannot put a Band-Aid on the Great Salt Lake as Republican leaders propose. Instead, we must create a new 100-year water plan to better support our state’s desert ecosystem. 

The federal government already sounded the alarm last month to the six states that rely on Colorado River water, including Utah. In just a few weeks, the federal government is taking over management of the water that feeds Lake Powell, Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. It must take drastic measures to assure that tens of millions of humans who rely on this water supply can turn on their kitchen and bathroom faucets to get needed water.

This is not a drill.

Approximately 85% of Utah’s water goes to agriculture. Rather than spending $10 million on more research, we should allocate those funds towards farm subsidies to let certain fields lie fallow. Much of our produce is exported, not just to other states, but to nations overseas. We are in a position where we must take care of Utah and America first.

Utah is the highest domestic per capita water user in the Southwest, but we are one of the driest states in the Union. But as Sam Cooke sings, “A change is gonna come,” one way or another. As your representative, I will seek to find the best possible solutions for the Great Salt Lake and Utah. 

Darlene McDonald is the Democratic candidate for Utah’s 4th Congressional District.