November 23, 2023 — Utah House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Schultz has applied to drill wells near the Great Salt Lake for ranching purposes, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article published at the Great Salt Lake Collaborative. His application filed with the Division of Water Rights seeks to withdraw over 550 acre-feet annually from local springs and groundwater. Schultz is reportedly affiliated with Keller Cattle Corp. which owns the ranch. The application is to use the water for livestock and hay production, with an emphasis on sustainability for various wildlife.
Schultz was previously critical of Compass Minerals’ water usage from the lake for lithium extraction. He distinguishes his agricultural use as less impactful than mineral extraction because the agricultural withdrawal is not directly from the lake. Despite Compass Minerals pausing its lithium project, environmental concerns persist, particularly with the Great Salt Lake reaching record low levels in recent years.
Governor Spencer Cox’s restriction on new water rights in the Great Salt Lake basin has an exception for the west desert watershed where Schultz’s ranch is located. This has sparked controversy. The Division of Water Rights must evaluate if there’s excess water available and whether the usage would harm public welfare or recreation.
The Utah Rivers Council filed the only objection, arguing that Schultz’s project could exacerbate the lake’s water crisis. It contends that the proposal, while technically outside the suspended water rights area, contradicts the spirit of the governor’s proclamation aimed at protecting the lake.
Schultz plans to use drought-tolerant plants and minimal alfalfa in his irrigation, asserting minimal impact on the lake. Concerns about the inter-connectedness of regional aquifers and the cumulative impact of such water extractions remain a point of debate. The Great Basin Water Network emphasizes the need for better data on these connections, urging regulators to scrutinize such water use proposals closely.