Last week, the Great Salt Lake Commissioner, Brian Steed, released his strategic plan for rescuing the lake. The plan outlined several ways that Utah can get more water to the lake, including investment in agricultural optimization techniques, a push toward water-wise landscaping, and the implementation of technologies that help shepherd conserved water to the lake.
Grow the Flow sat down with Dr. Patrick Belmont, a water scientist at Utah State University, to discuss his views on Steed’s report. “I have a lot of respect for Brian Steed,” Belmont said. “He has a tremendous amount of pressure on his shoulders and many different stakeholders pulling him in different directions. He’s a really thoughtful person who really understands the issue, and I think he’s taking his job very seriously.”
In particular, Belmont was optimistic about Steed’s plan to allocate more funding for split-season and seasonal leasing so that farmers can be compensated for letting water flow to the lake.
Though generally pleased with Steed’s report, Belmont would have liked to see an admission that “we are overallocated for water rights in Utah.” Additionally, he says that cloud seeding, which appeared as one of the solutions in the report, is being oversold as a viable solution and that “we will likely be underwhelmed by its effects on the lake.” In the “best case scenario,” Belmont doubts cloud seeding could solve more than 5 percent of the lake’s problem.
More than that, he cites the accompanying risks of cloud seeding technologies. “I have concerns about putting silver iodide out over such an enormous area in such high quantities.” Silver iodide is a carcinogen.
“There are a lot of good things in the report,” Belmont said, “but the devil is in the details and there are not a lot of details in there. Having said that, I think he lays out a really good framework.” Perhaps the takeaway from this is that our energy and attention is needed in ironing out these important details.
Last summer, attention and concern surrounding the lake reached a peak. But engagement from the public and its lawmakers has since waned. Maybe last year’s big snow season lulled us to sleep, or maybe we are simply struggling to offer the problem our sustained attention. But until we address its causes, the problem will persist.
“I’m not sure people really grasp the gravity of the problem or how difficult it is going to be to solve this problem,” Belmont said. He urges Utahns to “talk to their elected officials and to talk among themselves.” He said this strategy contributed to Israel saving the Sea of Galilee. “Every night on the news they were talking about it. Everyone was talking about it.”
So let’s keep talking about the Great Salt Lake. Steed’s plan has provided a useful framework for moving forward. But we are now faced with the difficult task of actually executing the plan.