SALT LAKE CITY – Recently, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water Rights, and Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands joined together to file motions to dismiss litigation alleging the state is required to curtail vested water rights in the interest of maintaining a specific level in the Great Salt Lake.
The Great Salt Lake is an important resource and critical component of the ecosystem in northern Utah. The state is heavily invested in protecting and enhancing the lake. In the last two years, the Legislature has appropriated about a half billion dollars into programs to bolster the lake. These programs include: a Watershed Enhancement Program to find ways to retain and enhance water flows to sustain the Great Salt Lake; a Water Trust by which water rights may be sold, leased or donated to the Great Salt Lake; turf buy-back programs; the creation of the office of the Great Salt Lake commissioner to coordinate efforts across agencies; water measurement; agricultural optimization; and other endeavors.
Additionally, Gov. Spencer Cox has suspended future water appropriations in the Great Salt Lake basin, and the state has implemented policy changes to help preserve and protect the lake. The Legislature has created various legal mechanisms that bolster the state’s stewardship of Great Salt Lake. These mechanisms include the ability to dedicate water rights for the enhancement of the natural aquatic environment of the Great Salt Lake, the establishment of a water banking framework, the creation of split-season leases, and the opportunity for saved water—realized through agricultural optimization projects—to be committed to the lake.
While undertaking these efforts, the state was sued.
The state shares the plaintiffs’ concern for a healthy Great Salt Lake and the surrounding environment. Litigation, however, cannot solve every problem, and indeed, directs important resources away from efforts to conserve and enhance the lake. The state will continue its work to save the Great Salt Lake for future generations.