The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a major property owner in the state of Utah, has donated a massive amount of water shares to the Great Salt Lake.
Utah's Department of Natural Resources confirmed the faith group donated 5,700 water shares, or about 20,000 acre-feet, in permanent water rights to the lake. It's the equivalent size of Little Dell Reservoir, and it will be solely for the lake, and in perpetuity, the agency said. The water was previously used for agriculture by the church.
"The Great Salt Lake and the ecosystem that depends on it are so important. 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. We invite others to join with us to help," Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric of the church, said in a statement announcing the donation.
The Great Salt Lake, last year, hit its lowest point in recorded history as a result of water diversion, drought, and a changing climate. It presents an existential threat to northern Utah, with toxic dust storms, reduced snowpack and harms to public health and wildlife. Political leaders in the state have reacted with alarm, passing water conservation bills and spending nearly $1 billion over the past two years.
But, this past legislative session, environmental groups said that while lawmakers took huge steps for the long-term viability of the lake, they did not do enough in the short term to get water into the Great Salt Lake. Bills that would have done exactly that failed to pass and it was criticized as a "missed opportunity." A major bill passed in 2022 created a multi-million dollar trust run by the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy with the goal of buying or leasing water rights for the lake itself.
In a statement, House Speaker Brad Wilson, who has personally championed bills to save the Great Salt Lake, said he was thrilled with the announcement.
"The donation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is beyond incredible and much appreciated," the Speaker said. "Saving the Great Salt Lake and enacting greater conservation practices is a statewide effort that requires commitment from all Utahns – individuals, businesses, and organizations. We are grateful for the Church’s willingness to do their part to help Utah’s water supply for years to come."
Governor Spencer Cox also called it significant.
"We’ve been working on this for a long time and I’m so excited to finally make it public," he said on Twitter. "We are so grateful to the church for their generosity and stewardship. Together with the state’s $1B investment and massive policy changes, the future of the lake has never been more secure!"
The donation will be managed by that trust, Scripps News Salt Lake City reported.
This story was originally published by Scripps News Salt Lake City.