Utah Senate committee confirms Great Salt Lake commissioner

Brian Steed won a unanimous vote from the Senate Natural Resources Confirmation Committee, even winning over a lawmaker who was skeptical of the position.

(Courtesy of the Utah Governor's Office) Brian Steed, the Bureau of Land Management's deputy director over policy and programs, has been named to head the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Brian Steed may have one of the toughest jobs in Utah government: he is tasked with saving the Great Salt Lake.

“The challenges facing the Great Salt Lake are real,” Steed said at the beginning of his Senate confirmation hearing on Monday for the position of “Great Salt Lake Commissioner.”

Steed currently directs Utah State University’s Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water & Air. He previously served as Utah Department of Natural Resources director and was a deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management. In his new role, he will have to help come up with a plan to help reverse the lake’s dramatic declines.

Last year, the Great Salt Lake hit its lowest point in recorded history as a result of water diversion, drought and a changing climate. The threat it presents to Utah is significant: there is reduced snowpack and water; harms to wildlife from reduced marshlands surrounding the lake; impacts to public health in the form of toxic dust storms from naturally-occurring arsenic in the now-exposed lake bed; and billions of dollars in lost economic impact generated from the lake.

The lake’s decline has set off alarm bells on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have advanced bills aimed at water conservation and protecting the lake, spending roughly $1 billion over the past two years. This year, the Utah State Legislature approved the creation of a commissioner who will be a central point-person to coordinate state agencies, environmental groups and other stakeholders with a mission to help the lake.

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