SALT LAKE CITY – A legislative commission is floating the idea of a pipeline to bring water from the Pacific Ocean into the Great Salt Lake.
“There’s a lot of water in the ocean and we have very little in the Great Salt Lake,” said Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, who co-chairs the Legislative Water Development Committee.
At a meeting on Tuesday, the commission authorized a study of the idea – along with a number of other water measurements – while acknowledging that it seems like an unusual idea.
When FOX 13 News asked commission co-chairman Rep. Joel Ferry if they were really serious about the idea, he replied, “Oh no, we’re very serious about it. Well, the times desperate calls for desperate measures and all options are on the table.”
The study would examine the cost of creating a pipeline from the Pacific Ocean, through California and the Sierra Nevada mountains, through the deserts of Nevada and ultimately into the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
“It’s just an idea,” warned Senator Hinkins in an interview with FOX 13 News. “Other countries are doing it to fill their lakes because of drought situations. We should know if there is any feasibility or even if we will have rights of way for this stuff but have an idea of how much it will cost.”
The idea, the committee chairs acknowledged, could cost billions (not to mention whether other states would even allow such a thing).
As FOX 13 News first reported in April, the Great Salt Lake is expected to hit a new all-time low this year.. Utah is currently under a drought emergency. The massive lake is shrinking due to water diversion, development, drought and climate change. A dry lake presents a massive environmental crisis for Utah with toxic dust storms (there is arsenic in the lake bed), a lack of snow, and billions of dollars in lost economic impact for the State.
“Our whole way of life in northern Utah is affected by a declining lake,” Rep. Ferry warned. “We have instituted and put in place significant conservation measures, but that will not be enough and so we need to look at other options and one of those options is to import water from the Pacific Ocean.”
While commission members were supportive of the concept, others were skeptical. Asked about the idea after the meeting, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, sighed loudly and said, “Why don’t we try to conserve water?”
Beyond its feasibility, Rep. Briscoe said he’s worried about the cost to taxpayers.
“I thought we were a state that respected frugality and efficiency,” he said. “There’s no way you can afford to pump salt water from the Pacific into Utah.”
The Alliance for a Better Utah, a left-leaning political group, criticized the idea.
“Legislators should spend more time and resources on water conservation policies, and less time on boondoggles like more dams and unnecessary pipelines. In all areas – individuals, industries, agriculture, etc. – we we are overusing water as a state and we need to conserve this precious resource,” said Chase Thomas, group director.
The Utah State Legislature has advanced a number of water conservation bills and House Speaker Brad Wilson personally sponsored a bill this year spending $40 million to support efforts to bring more water to the lake, such as environmental groups leasing or buying water rights for the Great Salt Lake itself.
While most unusual, the Great Salt Lake pipeline concept wasn’t the only idea put forward by the commission on Tuesday. Other projects include water reuse, exploring ways to cope with declining water levels at Lake Powell, the amount of water Utah receives from the Bear River, a study of pipeline for the Green River, agricultural optimization, rural water metering, aquifer storage and more water conservation measures.
“The cost of doing nothing is more,” Rep. Ferry said.