Sen. Romney, Stewart and Owens pitch Congress on a Great Salt Lake rescue bill

“It is incumbent on us to take action now,” Romney said in a statement.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The shore of the Great Salt Lake on Stansbury Island on Saturday, March 26, 2022. The shrinking lake has spurred Utah's congressional delegation to bring federal dollars to find solutions.

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 ailing Great Salt Lake has caught the attention of Washington. Sen. Mitt Romney announced Thursday that he and fellow Republican Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens introduced a bill to preserve the Great Salt Lake.

For the second time in less than a year, the iconic lake has already dropped to a new record low. The Great Salt Lake Recovery Act would ask for federal dollars to study historic droughts and identify solutions to revive the capital city’s namesake.

“It is incumbent on us to take action now which will preserve and protect this critical body of water for many generations to come,” Romney said in a statement.

The legislation requests $10 million to develop a program that focuses on the conditions and water levels of saline lakes in the Great Basin. The goal is to keep other stakeholders up to date on the various ecosystems that call saline lakes home.

Additionally, the bill would support the investigation of alternative ways to funnel water to the lake, including pipelines, coastal desalination plants and canal reinforcement.

However, Bonnie Baxter, the director of the Great Salt Lake Institute, noted the ideas on the table, like building a pipeline that would funnel water from a different state, would be complicated.

“Watersheds don’t respect state or even country boundaries. Watersheds are about landscape,” Baxter said. “And in the case of Great Salt Lake, all the water in the watershed funnels towards that terminal lake. So, it’s like the bottom of the bathtub.”

There’s also a question if Great Salt Lake ecosystems would survive water from another source. Baxter said it’s most likely possible to bring the ocean to the Great Salt Lake, but the organisms from the ocean may not survive the high salt levels.

Nonetheless, Baxter believes the bill offers some innovative ideas worth testing out.

“I think this is the kind of desperate situation where we need to be very creative and we need to entertain all possible solutions,” Baxter said.

Stewart said the act builds upon the efforts the Utah Legislature has taken to bolster the water levels. He acknowledged the state can’t be the only one attempting to keep the Great Salt Lake alive.

“Reversing this trend will take a collective effort,” Stewart said in a statement. “This legislation is a great first step toward finding a solution, but our work is far from over.”