SALT LAKE CITY (Nov. 3, 2022) — With Utah’s Great Salt Lake reaching new record lows, Gov. Spencer Cox has issued a proclamation suspending new water appropriations within the Great Salt Lake Basin, including the Bear, Weber, and Jordan River basins and the body of the Great Salt Lake.
“Extreme drought, climate change and increased demand continue to threaten the Great Salt Lake,” said Gov. Cox. “We are united in our efforts to protect this critical resource and are taking action to ensure existing flows continue to benefit the lake. When conditions improve, the suspension can be lifted.”
The suspension allows for existing water rights and applications to be used and developed while promoting more efficient use of the existing supply.
“Saving the Great Salt Lake and protecting our available water sources is no small task and will require significant efforts from all Utahns – government, organizations, businesses, and individuals,” Speaker Brad Wilson said. “Today’s announcement by Gov. Cox is a move in the right direction. As state leaders, we are doing everything we can to ensure Utah has enough water to meet our current needs and continue to support a growing and thriving population.”
The suspension pauses further appropriations of surface water and groundwater that are tributary to Great Salt Lake. It also provides an opportunity for some of the conservation measures proposed during the 2022 legislative session to be implemented while allowing time for additional research to be completed.
“This past legislative session, we approved $40 million for Great Salt Lake restoration,” said Senate President J. Stuart Adams. “This was part of a historic investment that allocated nearly $500 million to water infrastructure, planning and management, effectively changing decades of major water policy in Utah. We are committed to doing more to preserve and protect this critical resource.”
A declining Great Salt Lake has far-reaching consequences and could result in increased dust, worsening air quality, reduced snow, diminished lake access, increased salinity, habitat loss and negative economic repercussions to the state.
“By protecting the lake, we help our economy, environment, wildlife and future,” said Gov. Cox.
Although the proclamation suspends new appropriations of water throughout the Great Salt Lake Basin, there are exceptions for applications that propose nonconsumptive uses, applications that include a mitigation plan to offset depletion, and applications for small amounts of water associated with individual domestic uses. It also excludes areas of Tooele County and the West Desert outside the surveyed meander line of Great Salt Lake.
Lake elevation is starting to stabilize now that temperatures are dropping, storms are moving in and irrigation has concluded for the season. Levels are expected to rise slowly and peak with spring runoff. According to the United States Geological Survey causeway gauge, lake elevation has fluctuated between 4188.9 and 4188.6 over the last month.
Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake is critical to the state of Utah economically, ecologically and environmentally. It is the largest saline lake in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth largest in the world. The lake’s ecology is an extraordinary example of the rich web of relationships between people, land, water, food and survival. The 1,700 square miles of various water environments, remote islands and shorelines, with 360,000 acres of wetlands, provide habitat for plants, brine shrimp, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, shorebirds and waterfowl.