UTAH (ABC4) – The Great Salt Lake continues to be a major talking point here in Utah, especially as it continues to reach record low water levels.
About two-thirds of its water comes from a single source: the Bear River. Several agencies are working together to study the economic impact of the river in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah to better understand the opportunities the river currently provides and to preserve those opportunities in the future as the population continues. to grow.
A study published in 2012 found that the annual economic impact of the Great Salt Lake in Utah is over $1 billion. Now it’s a race to save the lake. Utah lawmakers recently approved $40 million to study the lake, and Sen. Mitt Romney introduced a bill that would allocate an additional $10 million in federal funds.
“It took 10 years, but we are there, and we know very well why people should be worried about the lake,” Laura Vernon said.
Vernon is the Great Salt Lake Coordinator for the Utah Department of Natural Resources in the State Forests, Fires and Lands Division.
Vernon and DNR-FFSL worked to continuously gather information about the lake as water levels continued to drop for years. From the lake’s economic impact to its impact on the weather along the Wasatch Front. Their work has helped Utahns become more aware of the incredible resource that is the Great Salt Lake.
“The Bear River needs to be analyzed for its own economic importance and its impacts on potential projects,” said Zac Covington, regional growth director for the Bear River Association of Governments (BRAG).
Covington is one of many people who will spend the next year studying the economic impact of the Bear River in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah. Cache Water District and BRAG will be joined in their efforts to conduct the study by other water districts, county officials and other stakeholders. Some of them will also come from Idaho and Wyoming.
Ultimately, the river ends at the Grand Lac Salé and supplies about 60-65% of the lake’s water. It is undeniably intertwined with the lake’s economy and ecosystem. However, the study will focus on the 350 miles of river that impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of people long before its water reaches the lake.
“There are already a lot of benefits to be had from the Bear River,” explained Lara Gale, regional growth planning specialist for BRAG. “There are agricultural benefits, there are recreational benefits, and there are huge wildlife and ecosystem benefits.”
Gale will also play an important role in carrying out the study which will cover half a dozen counties and three states. She said they estimated the study would cost up to $150,000. Just recently, they conducted an Economic Impact Survey to learn more about Bear Lake’s economic impact on the surrounding area. This study cost less than $100,000. Part of this research involves surveying visitors to learn more about what draws them to the area, how much money they plan to spend when they visit, and what type of accommodations they are looking for when planning their trip.
As Utah’s population continues to grow, so does the development of the land. Gale said we need to understand the current value of the river in order to make decisions about future development. “Then we can say, ‘Okay, if we choose to make this change, what will the results be and how will they compare to the benefits we were getting given the previous state. “”
She added: “Really, we should manage all our natural assets. And really, that’s an important aspect of stewardship of a very important body of water.
BRAG and the other organizations involved are currently applying for various grants to help fund the study. If all goes as planned, they should have their findings by the end of 2023.