Sen. Mitt Romney: Saving Great Salt Lake will likely cost ‘billions’

Legislation introduced by Romney, along with Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens, would call on the Army Corps of Engineers to research ways to save the ailing lake.

Saving the drying Great Salt Lake will likely cost billions of dollars, Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.

Romney, along with fellow Utah Republican Reps. Chris Stewart and Rep. Burgess Owens, introduced legislation last week that would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study in search of ways to save the drought-stricken saline lake.

“This is not just a matter of taking our three-minute showers down to one minute. This is going to require something far more substantial than modest adjustments,” Romney said. “... That’s something which these studies will help us understand both at the state and federal level.”

Earlier this month, the Great Salt Lake sank to a record-breaking low level for the second time in less than a year, and is likely to keep receding until cooler weather arrives in the Salt Lake Valley. As the lake dries, Utahns are increasingly at risk of being exposed to toxins like mercury and arsenic contained in dust blown from the exposed lakebed.

If the Great Salt Lake Recovery Act passes, it would allocate $10 million for monitoring water availability and the condition of the lake, as well as identifying potential technologies to redirect water to the lake, like pipelines, coastal desalination plants and canal reinforcement.

Romney said if the Army Corps of Engineers does take on the project, he’s “expecting recommendations to come out within the next calendar year.”

In 2021, Romney co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., that would have required the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor saline lakes in the Great Basin, including the Great Salt Lake. The bill never made it out of committee.

This time around, the senator is optimistic legislation will have more support as Utah’s drought has attracted national attention.

“When Senator Merkley and I were talking about this a couple of years ago, people sort of scratched their head and said, you know, ‘why do we care that much whether or not the Great Salt Lake shrinks?’” Romney said. “Now they understand. ... It’s a real problem for our country.”

This article is published through The Great Salt Lake Collaborative: A Solutions Journalism Initiative, a partnership of news, education and media organizations that aims to inform readers about the Great Salt Lake.

Correction • This story has been updated to clarify when the Great Salt Lake first reached a record low.