Mormon Church gives water to boost endangered Great Salt Lake

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SALT LAKE CITY — Donate water rights from a small reservoir to Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Replace grass with rocks and hydric landscaping around well-maintained meetinghouses. Reduce water use by more than a third outside of the Salt Lake City Temple Square headquarters. Here are some of the actions the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is taking to address the realities of a drier future that is fast approaching.

Bishop Christopher Waddell’s remarks at the University of Utah on Friday underscored how the church, one of the largest holders of land and water rights in the western United States, is expanding its role in conservation and seeking solutions.” that protect the future of all beings of God”. children.”

“Our ability to be wise stewards of the earth depends on our understanding of the natural resources with which we have been blessed,” the senior church official said at a symposium on the future of the Great Salt Lake in SJ de la University of Utah. Quinney Law School.

Speaking after a long list of scientists, as well as Republican Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, Waddell said the church’s focus on environmental stewardship dates back to the Brigham Young era. , noting that the 19th-century forefather of the faith endorsed what one historian said at the time was a “radical notion”: that water is a public resource, not just a matter of private property rights.

He said the church was grateful for the wet winter but not surprised by the power of prayer, and urged members of the faith to conserve water and not let the season’s abundant snowpack go to waste.

The expanded role of the church in Utah conservation efforts comes as an increasing number of large institutions recognize that additional action will likely be needed to prepare for the challenges ahead in the drought-stricken western United States. . Yet it is also reigniting recurring questions from a growing chorus of environmentalists and scientists about whether the region’s leaders — in business, politics and religion — are acting aggressively enough to deal with the drought and its impending consequences.

Church officials announced earlier this week that they planned to donate approximately 20,000 acre-feet of water rights to the Great Salt Lake, which has been reduced to its lowest levels due to a supply-demand imbalance caused by decades. regional drought.

“It’s a drop in the ocean on one level, but it’s also a big drop,” Ben Abbott, an ecologist at Brigham Young University, said of the church’s donation.

One acre-foot is enough water to supply two to three American homes for a year, and the lake is operating at a deficit of 1.2 million acre-feet. The church’s donation is about the size of a small reservoir and about 2% of what is needed to keep the lake at its current level, according to research by a group of scientists led by Abbott. The church has at least 75,000 acre-feet of active water rights, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in February.

Although less water now flows through the rivers that have historically fed the lake, growing cities and farms continue to draw water, causing the lake’s elevation to plummet. If the lake continues to shrink, it could risk being an ecological, economic, and public health disaster; as more toxic dust is exposed on the coast, it is likely to endanger native species, foul the air in surrounding communities and compromise the “lake effect” snow on which the state’s ski industry depends.

Utah lawmakers have passed a variety of drought-related measures to make farming more efficient and to pay homeowners to replace some grass. Yet they have not come up with more drastic proposals on par with neighboring states, amid winter snowfalls that are expected to temporarily avert crises at both Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border and the Great Salt Lake.

“Mother Nature really helped us,” Republican Sen. Scott Sandall said earlier this month. “We didn’t have to pull that lever for emergency use.”

With scientists projecting that the lake could dry up in as little as five years, a growing chorus of scientists and environmentalists have demanded that lawmakers commit to keeping the lake at a reference elevation and consider more aggressive policies to ensure it is delivered. more water in the midst of conflicting interests such as municipal development and water-intensive farms.

Although lawmakers and state leaders praise ongoing conservation efforts, they still plan to damming the Bear River, the largest tributary that feeds the Great Salt Lake, and the Lake Powell pipeline, which would divert water from the dwindling reservoir that stores water from the Colorado River for seven years. states and Mexico.

Zach Frankel, the executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said it was difficult to gauge how far donations like that from the church would go to save the Great Salt Lake, especially if the state doesn’t adopt a target elevation.

“Our state leaders failed to resolve the Great Salt Lake crisis because they turned their backs on meaningful solutions to put water in the lake,” Frankel said.

On Friday, Cox was adamant in refuting the idea that political leaders aren’t doing enough to save the Great Salt Lake. The first-term Republican warned scientists about the degree of certainty with which they present “pessimistic” projections and warned activists that the aggressive policy changes they seek could provoke a fierce public backlash and jeopardize progress.

“We are going faster than I ever thought we would go. But if we start confiscating farms and water shares, you will see politicians respond very quickly. People will be running for office to make sure we’re not saving the Great Salt Lake,” Cox said. “They will be chosen. That’s the kind of thing you have to think about.”

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