Lawsuit Argues UT Has Failed to Address Shrinking Great Salt Lake
Thursday, September 14, 2023
Conservation and community groups have filed a lawsuit against Utah for what they claim is the state's failure to ensure enough water gets to the Great Salt Lake, to avoid what they call an "ecological collapse."
The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Utah to let more water reach the largest natural lake in the Western Hemisphere.
John Leshy, professor emeritus of law at the University of California-San Francisco, said the lake is a "public trust" resource per the state's constitution. He added the court will examine what the designation means when it comes to managing and protecting it.
Back in the 1970s, the California Supreme Court stepped in to protect Mono Lake from its water being diverted to Los Angeles utilizing the Public Trust Doctrine. Leshy argued it could set a strong precedent in Utah.
"The Utah courts will have to make up their own minds about what Utah law said on this subject," Leshy acknowledged. "But obviously if they look to the Mono Lake situation, they will do something along the lines of 'You can't let this important resource disappear from inaction,' because that is what the future holds unless the courts intervene."
Leshy pointed out potential public health impacts make the Great Salt Lake case different and more serious than the Mono Lake case. According to a NASA study, residents in west Salt Lake City and Tooele County will be disproportionately affected by the exposed lake bed sediment which contains fine particulates and toxic pollutants. Critics of using the "public trust" approach said there are multiple water users to consider, and other, less drastic solutions to improve the lake's health.
Stu Gillespie, senior attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, filed the lawsuit. He contended the Utah Constitution imposes public trust duties, forcing the state to protect the Great Salt Lake, which now sits below the point experts said is needed to remain viable.
According to Earthjustice, the state cannot sustain a minimum water level of about 4,200 feet without modifying upstream diversions. Gillespie stressed the law is on the plaintiffs' side.
"The lake has gone into a structural decline in recent years," Gillespie pointed out. "The elevation has dropped, dropped and dropped, hitting record low levels. And as a result, that is triggering widespread impacts to the ecosystem, and also creating a public health crisis."
In Utah State University polling, a large majority of Utahns see drought and a drying Great Salt Lake as their top two environmental concerns. Gov. Spencer Cox's office would not comment on ongoing litigation.
get more stories like this via email
North Dakota's farming landscape is seeing policy shifts dealing with corporate ownership of agricultural interests. Now, there's fresh debate at the …
Advocates for unpaid family caregivers in Maine say they'll need continued support beyond the recently passed paid family and medical leave program…
The Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida are filing lawsuits against the deacti…
A new report from WGU Labs, a nonprofit affiliate of Western Governors University based in Millcreek, Utah, is shedding light on the importance of …
Many older residents of Washington state are facing strains on their budgets -- and the government programs that could assist them are underused…
Health and Wellness
New Mexico activists are tapping today's World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, to announce they'll ask the State Legislature to provide more money for treatment …
Bipartisan legislation that proposes the installation of solar panels in schools across Pennsylvania awaits a vote in the state Senate. The Solar …
A bill in Congress with a Connecticut House sponsor aims to reduce child labor in the United States. Called the "Children Harmed in Life-Threatening …