Leland Myers: Saving Great Salt Lake, one drop at a time

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mary Brooks from Missoula, Montana, wades in the Great Salt Lake, Sept. 18, 2019.

Recently, my neighbor and I had a discussion about water conservation. Now, as someone who has worked in the water industry for the better part of five decades, you’d think I’d get into these discussions quite frequently.

This conversation was different, however, because he asked me two very direct questions: Why should he conserve water and why should he care about Great Salt Lake. My answer? Because the future is not far off and a quality future requires action today. For all of us, Great Salt Lake has to be a part of that future.

Utah is the second driest state in the U.S., and this year, our state is especially thirsty. For more than 30 years, Utahns have been discussing the best ways to keep up the current and future water demands as our population continues to grow, and our lawmakers have passed legislation for large water projects to fill this demand. However, Utahns need to set new expectations and adapt new water use habits for us to save valuable resources like Great Salt Lake.

The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council has commissioned studies that tell us a dry lake is an economic, environmental and ecological disaster. Excessive dust, uninhabitable environment for wildlife and a loss of thousands of jobs await us if we do not act now. If we continue with our current water habits, the lake’s water level could drop up to another 11 feet in the near future.

The good news is there are solutions to this catastrophe.

Instead of large water projects, especially in the Bear River area, we can conserve water in a way that prepares for future growth. This is a reasonable and achievable goal but does require action from everyone.

The advisory council’s most recent study demonstrates that for a large water district, the average daily per person water consumption in 2015 was 197 gallons per day. This study also shows if we can drop the per person water usage to 144 gallons per day, we can live within our existing water supply for at least 40 more years. This would postpone the need for water projects that would cause irreparable damage to Great Salt Lake’s water levels.

So, what can we do now to begin the process of adequate conservation? The study outlines a few simple steps we can all take, including replacing old toilets with high-efficiency toilets, buying a high-efficiency washing machine, watering your lawn one to two days less each week, and, starting with your park strip, take out some grass and replace it with water-conserving landscape — it’s one less thing to mow!

Do these actions today because tomorrow is too late to start. Together, we can demonstrate our commitment to a future that includes Great Salt Lake.

Leland Myers

Leland Myers is the executive director of the Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, former manager of the Central Davis Sewer District and a member and the former chair of the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council.
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