SALT LAKE CITY – As Great Salt Lake experiences alarming water levels this year – down nearly a foot below its previous all-time low, the Utah Division of Water Rights has approved last week requests for water delivery to Farmington Bay of Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River. An innovative partnership is paving the way for voluntarily sharing lake water to meet the critical needs of people, birds and other wildlife.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Rio Tinto Kennecott, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy and the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission have collaborated to take this important step in the fight against the decline. of the water levels of the Great Salt Lake. With two donations of water rights, up to approximately 21,000 acre-feet of water per year could be delivered to Farmington Bay over the next ten years, subject to seasonal water availability and water availability. priority of water rights.
Ensuring that water flows to the Great Salt Lake and its wetlands over the long term is the most important strategy to prevent further drying up of the lake. The states Simultaneous resolution of 2019 to deal with the drop in water levels of the Great Salt Lake (HCR010) clearly “recognized the crucial importance of ensuring adequate water flows to the Great Salt Lake and its wetlands, in order to maintain a healthy and sustainable lake system”.
Maintaining the flow of water to the wetlands and open water habitats of the Great Salt Lake is essential for maintaining important natural areas of international and hemispherical importance for birds, while benefiting people. Recreational opportunities, including bird watching, hunting and boating, as well as the brine mineral and shrimp industries that depend on the lake represent nearly $ 1.32 billion per year in economic activity. In addition to the economic, ecological and cultural importance of a healthy lake, adequate water levels also protect public health from exposure to lake bed dust and contribute to lake effect snow. from Utah.
“The Utah Wildlife Division is dedicated to the conservation, enhancement and active management of Utah’s protected wild populations, which include shorebirds, waterfowl and other waterfowl, ”said Justin Shirley, Division Director of Utah Wildlife Resources. “We appreciate this donation, which represents a significant milestone for the division and its ability to manage the water needs of wildlife in non-retained areas of Great Salt Lake and to support habitat in critical wetlands around its shores. “
Rather than leaving the Jordan at the historic diversion points about 30 to 40 miles upstream, the water will flow to Great Salt Lake, where the Jordan flows into Farmington Bay.
“The Great Salt Lake is at the gates of Rio Tinto Kennecott. This has always been essential to our operations and to our employees who care about the lake, ”said Gaby Poirier, CEO of Rio Tinto Kennecott, which yields up to 18,387 acre-feet of water per year. “It is an important victory for the health of the Great Salt Lake and a first in the history of water rights that we are able to contribute to the lake as a beneficial use of water. We are thrilled to be part of this collaborative partnership that allows us to share water resources that benefit wildlife, habitats, delicate ecosystems and the entire Salt Lake Valley.
Water levels in the Great Salt Lake vary seasonally and from year to year, but overall they have seen a steady long-term decline over the past 150 years due to diversions of water, drought and climate change. Low water flows have particularly affected Farmington Bay, which includes the second largest wetland area in Grand Salt Lake, covering approximately 121,500 acres. Currently, much of the lake bed in Farmington Bay is dry and exposed.
The aim is to provide water for beneficial use in the Great Salt Lake through voluntary water transactions without interfering with other water rights, largely held by duck clubs along the southern shores of the lake. Most importantly, the partners worked to find ways to use existing laws and policies to complete transactions.
“We are delighted to join this partnership and use some of our water rights for the benefit of Great Salt Lake and Farmington Bay and its wildlife, while building relationships with organizations that include complexities of sustaining the water needs of the environment and the community, ”said Gene Shawcroft. , general manager of Central Utah Water Conservation District (District), which donated 2,927 acre-feet of water each year. “The District has set-aside commitments in many areas of the District, including environmental flows in Sixth Water, Diamond Fork and tributaries of the Duchesne River. This collaboration also helps the district to materialize its efforts to meet environmental needs in a way that has lasting effects on policies and paves the way for future district projects that benefit nature.
Farmington Bay, one of the five Great Salt Lake Bird Areas of Global Importance, is a key resource for migratory birds. The bay provides habitat for many of the world’s bird populations, including American avocet, black-necked stilt, cinnamon teal, ruddy duck, white-faced ibis and the Wilson’s phalarope.
“The health of Farmington Bay is critical to the health and productivity of adjacent wetlands, including Gillmor Sanctuary in Audubon, and we are grateful for this collaboration and the generous contributions of our partners,” said Marcelle Shoop, director of the National Audubon Society’s Saline Lakes Program. “We also believe that this project lays the groundwork for future water deals that can benefit wetlands and openwater habitats in the lake. Audubon will continue to seek creative ways to ensure flows to the Great Salt Lake and its wetlands.
In 2019, Audubon and The Nature Conservancy approached Wildlife Resources, Kennecott and the District to explore the possibilities of using the Jordanian water rights for the benefit of Farmington Bay of the Great Salt Lake and, therefore, the lower reaches. of the Jordan.
“Nature conservation in Utah (TNC) has spent years working to protect the health of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, which provides invaluable benefits to nature and the people who live and work along the Wasatch front, ”said Dave Livermore, Utah State Director for TNC. “Our Great Salt Lake Shorelands Reserve, located on the edge of Farmington Bay, will also benefit from sustained flows in the bay, and we greatly appreciate all the contributions of these partners to help this project come to fruition. “
The Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission (Mitigation Commission), which is responsible for projects to offset impacts to fish, wildlife, and associated recreational resources caused by federal water harvesting projects in Utah, also joined the collaboration.
“The Commission has implemented important wetland mitigation and conservation projects on the Jordan River and the Great Salt Lake, and we are fortunate to have long-standing relationships with all of these partners in our efforts”, said Executive Director of the Mitigation Commission Mark Holden. “We greatly appreciate the donations of water rights from Kennecott and the District, as well as the central role of wildlife management using the water for the benefit of wildlife and the public. Likewise, the leadership of Audubon and TNC in their approach to raising awareness and deliberation of water management opens an important avenue for similar efforts to preserve the future of the Great Salt Lake.
Joey Kahn; [email protected]