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This ‘Western water guy’ made a case for the Great Salt Lake in congressional hearing

The Great Salt Lake is a cultural treasure. This legislation will help it survive

SHARE This ‘Western water guy’ made a case for the Great Salt Lake in congressional hearing
Water levels are pictured in the Great Salt Lake on July 20, 2023.

Water levels are pictured in the Great Salt Lake on Thursday, July 20, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sometimes in life you are afforded the opportunity to do things you never imagined. That happened to me this past week. I testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources subcommittee about bringing key help to restore the Great Salt Lake. Utah Congressman John Curtis sits on this committee. He is the primary House sponsor and is a major force in guiding this legislation called the Great Salt Lake Stewardship Act

Not only was I invited to express support for the Great Salt Lake Stewardship Act, I’m honored to be the leader of the Utah organization, Central Utah Water Conservancy District, that would be responsible for executing its directives. 

This legislation provides the Secretary of the Interior flexibility to utilize unexpended budget authority that may be available from other sections of the Central Utah Project Completion Act to enhance the popular Water Conservation Credit Programthat my district administers.

Importantly, under this new act, the geographic area covered by Central Utah Project Completion Act’s water conservation program would be expanded to include the entire Great Salt Lake Basin. This will assist with efforts by the State of Utah, local communities and water districts north of Salt Lake County to conserve water use and replenish the Great Salt Lake, which has been severely impacted by drought conditions.

I’m proud of how Utahns have confronted the challenge, with everyone doing what we can to conserve and redirect water to restore the Great Salt Lake to healthy levels. Our work has just started, that is certain, but our actions are already making a difference. As a public servant for 36 years, I’ve lived what most of us know: the easy stuff is first, now we are on to the tough work.    

Here’s a critical component of this legislation — it does not require new spending authorization. Annual funding for the program comes through the programmatic funding Congress provides to Central Utah Project Completion Act within the Department of Interior’s budget each year. This provides access to a stable federal funding mechanism for conservation projects that can be geared toward helping the Great Salt Lake. 

To give a scale to the kind of conservation we’ve been engaged in for years now under this congressional authority, in 2020 alone, the water savings from these projects was enough to nearly fill Deer Creek Reservoir, which has a capacity of 152,000 acre-feet. So again, this act will expand the work we can do on behalf of the entire Great Salt Lake Basin.

As I testified to the House Committee, Central Utah Water Conservancy District stands side by side with all members of Utah’s federal delegation in supporting this act. My district is committed to bring the resources and expertise to administer the act’s directives. 

I’m appreciative of Rep. Curtis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, not only for being the sponsors, but expending the political muscle needed to move federal gears to act on behalf of our beautiful, Western state. Curtis said it well: “Through this bill, we are ensuring no doors are left unopened to save our lake.”

The Great Salt Lake is a state, if not a national, treasure. It is essential to our culture, economy, biodiversity, climate and wildlife. I’m optimistic about its future. I’m also a western water guy, so I know that conservation is not one-and-done — it’s a way of life.

I’m hopeful this critical legislation passes. Last week’s hearing was the first big step in the House of Representative’s process (the act is also working its way through the U.S. Senate). As citizens, we can show our support for our federal delegation continuing efforts to pass the Great Salt Lake Stewardship Act (HR4094/S. 1955). Call or write, and let them know each of us support making the Great Salt Lake healthy again.

Gene Shawcroft is general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. He is also Utah’s Colorado River Commissioner. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in civil engineering.