Equilibrium & Sustainability

Mormon church to make massive water contribution to Great Salt Lake

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has agreed to part with a massive amount of water to help replenish the dwindling Great Salt Lake.

The Salt Lake City-based institution, one of the wealthiest organizations in Utah, will be donating more than 5,700 water shares that it holds in the North Point Consolidated Irrigation Company to the state.

The donated water, which was historically used for agricultural purposes, is thought to be the largest-ever permanent water contribution to benefit the lake, Utah’s Department of Natural Resources announced on Wednesday.

“The Great Salt Lake and the ecosystem that depends on it are so important,” Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, said in a statement.

“The Church wants to be part of the solution because we all have a responsibility to care for and be good stewards of the natural resources that God has given to us,” Waddell added.

Equivalent to more than 20,000 acre-feet, the gift ensures that water “can continue to flow to the lake in perpetuity,” according to the state Department of Natural Resources. For reference, typical U.S. suburban households use about one acre-foot of water annually.

“This water donation will make a real difference to the lake and the future of our state,” Gov. Spencer Cox (R) said in a statement.

“The Great Salt Lake is a critical asset environmentally, ecologically and economically, and we all need to work together to protect and preserve it,” he added.

In accompanying remarks on Twitter, he stressed that the parties have “been working on this for a long time.”

Crediting recent investments from the state, policy changes and this gift, Cox said that “the future of the lake has never been more secure.”

In July, Great Salt Lake water levels reached a historic low, plummeting to an average daily surface water elevation of 4,190.1 feet at the basin’s southern end. At the time, officials called for urgent action to protect the resource, the levels of which have been tracked since 1847.

Today, the lake’s water surface elevation stands at about 4,190.6 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Great Salt Lake contributes $1.9 billion to Utah’s economy, provides more than 7,700 jobs and supports 80 percent of the state’s wetlands, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

As far as the church’s gift is concerned, the department will manage the donation, working together with the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust.

The agreement will also include new measurement systems to better track water deliveries to the lake, according to the department. 

In addition to ensuring continuous flow to the lake, the gift will also help preserve critical shoreline and local wetland habitats, the agency said.

“This donation is invaluable because it’s a permanent, dedicated source of water that will benefit the lake year after year,” Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement.

“We look forward to continuing to work together to safeguard the lake,” Ferry added.

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