The declining water levels at the Great Salt Lake and what it may mean for Utah’s future have a majority of Utah residents concerned about its condition, and they are willing to have lawmakers throw more resources at it to help save the ailing lake.
A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll went out in the field Sept. 3-21 and asked 815 registered Utah voters how they feel about the lake.
Of those surveyed, 80% said they are concerned about the lake, while 19% said they are not concerned and another 1% said they didn’t know.
The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, has a margin of error rate of plus or minus 3.43%.
In a separate question posed about the possibility of Utah lawmakers dedicating more resources — dollars — to mitigate declining lake levels, 73% of those registered voters say they are up for that, 19% would disapprove and another 8% said they didn’t know.
The high level of support sends an encouraging message on the level of engagement on Utah’s investment in combating the problems posed by the Great Salt Lake, which has been challenged by a worst-in-12-centuries drought, climate change and diversions.
The Utah Legislature, in fact, threw a half billion dollars at water conservation strategies for the state in this last legislative session and created a $40 million trust dedicated solely for mitigation efforts on the lake.
The Great Salt Lake dropped to its historic low level this summer and is expected to decline even more. Boat access has been shuttered and the brine shrimp industry is looking at a dire situation because of low water levels. The diminishing lake also poses problems for the waterfowl it supports, as well as other industries.
Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, said she was pleased by the poll results.
“That’s really cool. It’s encouraging. The potential of political capital and people engaging, participating in various conversations in municipal settings and other ways, that translates into meaningful results for the lake.”
Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, co-chairman of the Utah Clean Air Caucus, spoke this month in a meeting convened on the Great Salt Lake, stressing the need for a permanent source of funding to improve its health.
Like de Freitas, he said the poll results are encouraging and show a level of commitment on the part of Utah residents and lawmakers to arrive at some permanent fixes.
The $40 million trust set up to benefit the Great Salt Lake was a good start.
“The truth is that amount is way small compared to what is needed. There is not any one thing you can do that makes a long-term difference,” Ward said.
He advocates permanent ongoing money to help arrive at solutions to assist an ailing lake that is seeing just a fraction of inflows necessary to maintain its health.
On average, the lake used to get inflows of 1.7 million acre-feet a year. Two years ago, it got just 600,000 acre-feet of water and this year 750,000 acre-feet of water, he said.
“Hopefully everybody knows it does not make sense to try doing something once, but the need for long term,” because otherwise, he warned, the lake could turn into a pond.