Utah resource managers ask court to sink Great Salt Lake lawsuit

The state of Utah is facing a lawsuit from environmental groups seeking to save the shrinking Great Salt Lake, but state officials argue that they are already working to prevent its collapse. The lawsuit was filed by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Rivers Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the American Bird Conservancy in an effort to compel the state to curb water diversions until the lake rises to a sustainable level.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water Rights, and Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands have filed motions to dismiss the case, stating that litigation alone cannot solve the problem. They argue that the state has already invested $500 million in protecting the lake and its watershed, created a trust to buy or lease water rights, and implemented a multimillion-dollar water optimization program for agriculture. The governor has also closed much of the lake’s watershed to new water appropriations.

While the state is taking steps to preserve the lake, the environmental groups believe that curtailing diversions is necessary to save the it from further ecological damage. They argue that the state has a duty to manage the lake for the public trust, in addition to managing water rights.

The Great Salt Lake has experienced record lows in recent years, leading to ecological damage and threatening the millions of birds that depend on it. The legal issues around the lake are complex, as there are numerous water users that support cities, farmers, and industry. The lawsuit has garnered attention from various water rights holders, including Salt Lake City, Provo City, and Rocky Mountain Power.

The Great Salt Lake has a historic and ecological significance, and its preservation is of utmost importance. 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.

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