The importance behind a key piece of legislation designed to help the Great Salt Lake and its vast watershed was detailed in a congressional subcommittee hearing earlier this week.

The Great Salt Lake Stewardship Act is sponsored by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and is a way to tap into a pool of money already set aside for water projects, but unused.

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This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

The Great Salt Lake is immensely valuable to Utahns and the surrounding region. As we face ongoing drought conditions, it is crucial that we take a responsible approach to address the challenges posed to the lake,” Lee said earlier this year. “This bill presents a thoughtful solution by leveraging existing resources and promoting efficient water conservation practices. By utilizing unexpended budget authority, we can maximize the impact of our conservation efforts without placing an additional burden on taxpayers.”

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What the bill proposes to do: Under Curtis and Lee’s bill, the expansion of the existing water conservation program under the Central Utah Project Completion Act would happen. That would include spending already allocated money to address the Great Salt Lake drainage basin. It allows that unexpended budget authority to be available under the Central Utah act to be used for water conservation efforts, instead of sitting in a bank account of sorts.

Lee and Curtis say by expanding the geographic coverage of the program to include the entire Great Salt Lake drainage basin, the bill would support the efforts of the state of Utah, local communities and water districts north of Salt Lake County in conserving water use and replenishing the lake.

What would it cost? In an op-ed published Friday in the Deseret News, Gene Shawcroft, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, explained the beauty of the legislation.

“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.”

Shawcroft testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources on why it is important to grant the Interior Secretary that flexibility, which is a simple fix in the law benefiting the Great Salt Lake and its watershed.

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The legislation also has the support of other managers of water conservancy districts along the Wasatch Front.