SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 21, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced a bill in the U.S Senate last year that aimed to study saline lakes.
The bill didn’t draw much interest or attention from national lawmakers.
“People sort of scratch their head and said, ‘Why do we care that much whether or not the Great Salt Lake shrinks?,'” Romney said Wednesday in a virtual news conference with reporters.
Romney said recent articles in The New York Times and from other high profile news outlets have explained the drying lakebed would expose toxic dust in the soil, which contains arsenic, among other dangerous elements.
“Now they understand, ‘Yeah, we care because it’s going to send arsenic into the air, and other heavy metals, and that dust will impact not only Salt Lake City and the global economy, but Colorado and Wyoming and so forth. It’s a real problem for our country.’ And that is something which I think the the national media has caught on to. Utah media has talked about this for a long time. Now the national media sees it.”
On July 14, Romney introduced the “Great Salt Lake Recovery Act,” legislation to study historic drought conditions and protect the long-term health of the Great Salt Lake. Utah Representatives Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens introduced companion legislation in the House.
The increasing awareness among lawmakers, Romney said, “prepares the way for whatever the Army Corps of Engineers and the state study comes up with, such that if we do need to have financial resources — perhaps to buy water rights from those that have been perhaps to buy land, and to encourage homeowners to reduce usage, these kinds of things, put in meters and so forth — we will be able to appropriate the funds to do so.”
Romney said solutions are likely to cost billions of dollars. One logical step would be to lessen the amount of water taken from natural sources that feed the lake. He suggested a study to determine how much difference that would make.
“That’s probably the most straightforward, least expensive and most tried and true method to to bring greater water to the Great Salt Lake,” he said. “Analysis is how you know how much would be available by doing that.”
Then there are factors including years of drought from decreased rain and snow.
“It may require purchases of water rights purchases of land, paying homeowners to move away from grass to xeriscape landscaping. These are the kinds of things that will have to be evaluated, but the scientists who are doing the calculations are going to have to give us a sense of ‘OK, how much do we do through conservation?’ I believe a lot.”
Romney said even ideas including a pipeline to the ocean, which was mentioned in the bill and has drawn criticism, are worth researching. Could a pipeline be feasible, one reporter asked.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Romney said, adding he had read studies years back about pipeline use in the east, Midwest and south.
“It was very expensive,” he said. “I don’t know what the price tag on that would be today. And and bringing in saltwater would present its own difficulties. Again, I don’t have any idea what the numbers would be. But But if the climate continues to give us drought, I think you want to evaluate as many options as you can…. There may be some options that are available today that technology didn’t afford a decade or two ago.”