Gov. Spencer Cox is optimistic about the future of Great Salt Lake
Governor Cox highlighted the state’s efforts to preserve and protect Great Salt Lake this week at a conference with Utah State University’s Executive Director of the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air, Brian Steed.
“I am less worried about the Great Salt Lake right now than I was a year ago,” Cox said.
Cox said this optimism about the lake is motivated primarily by Utahns’ response to record low water levels.
“I thought it would take us five to six years to get the general public to grasp the severity of drought in general but specifically the Great Salt Lake, and maybe more importantly, the legislature to really buy in and understand what was happening. And to my pleasant surprise, it took about six months,” Cox said.
Even with the public response, Cox said Utahns must continue to conserve water wherever possible.
“I don't know if this is a 20-year drought. I don't know if this is a 50-year drought. I don't know if this is a 100-year drought. Nobody can tell me that for sure. We have to act as if this is going to continue,” he said.
One major development in restoring and protecting the lake, Cox said, has come with changes to the state’s beneficial use doctrine.
“We have this model where if you have a water right, and you don't use all of that water you can lose that water right. So think about that perverse incentive, even if you don't need it, right now. It's like, well, I better use it,” he said.
Changes to the doctrine have allowed unused water rights to be diverted to Great Salt Lake through a $40 million allocation to environmental groups.
“Their job is to use that $40 million to lease, buy, find water to get to the Great Salt Lake,” Cox said.
Cox said experts from Utah State University, the University of Utah and international experts agree there is still hope for Great Salt Lake.