Salt Lake City—Today, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL) announced the National Audubon Society (Audubon) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as the recipients of the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Program grant funds. These organizations, with dedicated staff and conservation expertise in Utah, will utilize the $40 million appropriated during the 2022 legislative session to lead and implement a water trust to benefit Great Salt Lake and its wetlands. The trust will be used to enhance water quantity and water quality, with at least 25% of the funding used to protect and restore wetlands habitat to benefit the hydrology of Great Salt Lake.
“Great Salt Lake has dropped below historic low water levels, threatening the health of Wasatch Front residents, the future of key Utah industries, and the survival of millions of migratory shorebirds and other wildlife,” Jamie Barnes, FFSL director, said. “This trust dedicates significant funding and establishes a partnership to tackle ongoing challenges like drought and increasing water demands. Utahns need collective, watershed-wide solutions before it’s too late.”
The Great Salt Lake Water Trust was created by the unanimously approved Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Program and funding as part of HB410, which was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox on March 21. This historic legislation was accompanied by a range of other water conservation measures and funding initiatives adopted by the 2022 Utah Legislature.
“Today’s selection of Audubon and TNC as co-managers of the Great Salt Lake Water Trust reflects both organizations’ scientific expertise, non-profit credibility, commitment to collaboration, and long-standing conservation record at Great Salt Lake,” House Speaker Brad Wilson said. “The establishment of the Great Salt Lake Water Trust is a crucial step in preserving the lake and its wetlands for the future of Utah.”
Experts agree that ensuring water flows to Great Salt Lake and its wetlands over the long term is the single most important strategy to prevent further drying of the lake. With the ongoing drought and water supply pressures, lasting solutions will take time and require concerted action.
“The water trust provides an incredible opportunity to help address water challenges facing the lake, its birds and habitats, and business in ways that can benefit surrounding communities, and the state,” Marcelle Shoop, Audubon’s Director of Saline Lakes, said. “National Audubon Society is grateful for the leadership of Speaker Wilson and Governor Cox and the state’s funding commitment to protect this vital resource. We are excited to continue efforts to protect Great Salt Lake, and look forward to partnering with The Nature Conservancy and collaborating with a range of stakeholders to preserve the lake and the benefits it provides.”
Along with water policy changes made over the last few years, water conservation efforts and funding in 2022, the new trust will help advance projects and voluntary transactions to retain or enhance water flows to the lake and improve or preserve wetlands and important hydrologic connections.
“The Nature Conservancy looks forward to working with the National Audubon Society and public and private stakeholders to help create the Great Salt Lake Water Trust authorized by HB410,” Dave Livermore, TNC’s Utah State Director, said. “This is a time when all hands on deck are needed to save Great Salt Lake, and we are honored to be part of this effort. We salute Speaker Brad Wilson and other legislative leaders for providing this opportunity which will help safeguard and replenish the lake’s waters and habitat to benefit people and nature at this critical time.”
As part of the grant decision-making process, FFSL worked with the Utah Division of Water Quality and the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council.
Over the next few weeks and months, FFSL will be working with Audubon and TNC to develop agreements to establish the trust, launch outreach to partners and begin implementing program goals.
Lead Image: A Willet forages in the Great Salt Lake. Photo: Mary Anne Karren.
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