Great Salt Lake Strike Team policy assessment

Research universities and state agencies team up to offer solutions for Great Salt Lake. Analysis includes a data repository, research, and policy options that will help return the lake to healthy levels 

Declining water levels of Great Salt Lake threaten economic activity, local  public health, and ecosystems. In response to this emergent statewide challenge, Utah’s research universities  formed the Great Salt Lake Strike Team, a collaboration of experts in public policy, hydrology, water  management, climatology, and dust. Today they released a Great Salt Lake Policy Assessment that affirms the  situation is urgent, but also identifies a variety of policy levers that can return the lake to healthy levels. 

“Our findings are both stark and hopeful,” said co-chairs Brian Steed, executive director of the Janet Quinney  Lawson Institute for Land, Water, and Air, at Utah State University and Bill Anderegg, director of the Wilkes  Center for Climate Science and Policy at the University of Utah. “We firmly believe Great Salt Lake can be saved,  but it will require state leadership, research university technical expertise, and individual and collective action.” 

“Connecting policymakers with research institutions helps tap into a wealth of knowledge and leverage work  that is already underway,” said Joel Ferry, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. “We  appreciate the collaboration that has helped shape this report as we work together to protect and preserve the  lake.” 

The Great Salt Lake Policy Assessment includes a data repository, research on trends and target elevations, and  one-page summaries of policy options. Strike Team members agree Utah faces an economic, health, and  environmental imperative to act. Included in the report are a variety of insights, including the following: 

  1. Explanation for record-low elevation – Human and natural consumptive water use explain most of low  lake levels. Other contributing factors include natural precipitation variability and climate warming.  Human water use is the only factor that can be changed in the near term.  
  2. Analysis of decreasing inflow to the lake – Even though overall water supply from the mountains shows  no long-term trend, inflow to the lake is decreasing. This decrease reflects greater depletion by natural  and human systems at lower elevations. 
  3. Evaluation of policy options –Policymakers will need to rapidly assess the benefits, costs, and speed of  policy options to prioritize state actions. The Strike Team prepared a summary evaluation of 11 policy  options: 
    • Conservation 
      • Commit conserved water to Great Salt Lake
      • Optimize use of agricultural water 
      • Optimize municipal and industrial water pricing 
      • Limit municipal and industrial water use growth 
      • Utilize water banking and leasing 
      • Conduct active forest management in Great Salt Lake headwaters 
      • Optimize Great Salt Lake mineral extraction 
    • New water 
      • Import water 
      • Increase winter precipitation with cloud seeding 
    • Engineering solutions 
      • Raise the causeway berm 
      • Mitigate dust transmission hotspots 
  4. Conservation pathways to the lake – Committing conserved water to the lake is a fundamental policy  lever that is crucial for many other policies to function effectively.  
  5. Modeling of future water availability – Over the long term, slight increases in expected precipitation  will likely be overwhelmed by increases in temperature and evaporation, creating further challenges for  the lake. These future challenges underscore the value of refilling the lake quickly and creating an  adaptive process to monitor and maintain lake levels in coming decades. 

The Strike Team does not advocate but rather functions in a technical, policy-advisory role as a service to the  state. At the request of state leaders, the report does include six recommendations: 1) Leverage the wet years,  2) Set a lake elevation range goal, 3) Invest in conservation, 4) Invest in water monitoring and modeling, 5)  Develop a holistic long-term water resource plan for the watershed, and 6) Request in-depth analysis on policy  options. 

The full policy assessment – including a data and insights summary, lake elevation target range analysis, policy  options and recommendations – can be found online


Utah’s research universities – The University of Utah and Utah State University – formed the Great Salt Lake  Strike Team to provide a primary point of contact for policymakers as they address the economic, health, and  ecological challenges created by the record-low elevation of Great Salt Lake. Together with state agency  professionals, the Strike Team brings together experts in public policy, hydrology, water management,  climatology, and dust to provide impartial, data-informed, and solution-oriented support for Utah decision makers. The Strike Team does not advocate but rather functions in a technical, policy-advisory role as a service  to the state. 

Strike Team Membership 


William Anderegg 

Director, Wilkes Center for Climate  

Science and Policy, University of Utah 

Craig Buttars 

Commissioner, Utah Department of  

Agriculture and Food 

Joel Ferry 

Executive Director, Utah Department  

of Natural Resources 

Natalie Gochnour 

Director, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, University  of Utah 

Kim Shelley 

Executive Director, Utah Department of  Environmental Quality 

Brian Steed 

Executive Director, Janet Quinney Lawson Institute  for Land, Water, and Air,  

Utah State University 

David Tarboton 

Director, Utah Water Research Laboratory, Utah State University 

Team Members 

Leila Ahmadi 

Water Resource Engineer,  

Utah Division of Water Resources 

Eric Albers 

Project Lead  

Research Associate, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute,  University of Utah 

Blake Bingham 

Deputy State Engineer,  

Utah Division of Water Rights 

Paul Brooks 

Professor, Geology & Geophysics,  

University of Utah 

Joanna Endter-Wada 

Professor, Natural Resource Policy,  

Utah State University 

Candice Hasenyager 

Director, Utah Division of Water Resources,  

John Lin 

Associate Director, Wilkes Center for Climate  Science and Policy, University of Utah

Anna McEntire 

Associate Director, Janet Quinney Lawson Institute  for Land, Water and Air,  

Utah State University 

Bethany Neilson 

Professor, Civil and Environmental  

Engineering, Utah State University 

Sarah Null 

Associate Professor, Watershed Sciences, Utah State University 

Kevin Perry 

Professor, Atmospheric Sciences, 

University of Utah 

Ben Stireman 

Sovereign Lands Program Administrator, Division of  Forestry, Fire and State Lands, State of Utah 

Courtenay Strong 

Professor, Atmospheric Sciences, 

University of Utah 

Laura Vernon 

Great Salt Lake Basin Planner, 

Utah Division of Water Resources 

Kyla Welch 

Program Manager, Wilkes Center for Climate  Science and Policy, University of Utah 

Matt Yost 

Associate Professor and Agroclimate Extension  Specialist, Utah State University