United in solving Utah’s natural resource challenges
Utah’s natural resources have been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Box Elder County as a fifth-generation farmer and rancher, I learned to work hard and value the land. I worked alongside my dad, brothers, cousins and uncles and found a direct correlation between our united efforts and a successful harvest.
Great Salt Lake, its ecosystem and the recreational opportunities it provides have always been part of my life. Today, the lake is at-risk from unprecedented drought and the increasing demands on our water supply. I’m encouraged by people's interest in the lake and the actions and investments underway to help protect it.
We’ve conserved billions of gallons of water this past year, made historic investments in conservation and changed water policy that will benefit the lake in the long term. However, restoring the lake to healthier levels will take time. Since we can’t control the weather, we need to plan for a drier future and continue to take action. Utahns across all sectors are working together to stretch our water supply and become more drought resilient.
With the agriculture sector accounting for 65% of water use in the Great Salt Lake watershed, investing in agricultural optimization is critical. I have personally incorporated technology like the piping of ditches, drip irrigation systems, minimal tillage and laser leveling on my farm. These improvements have saved thousands of acre-feet of water that can now stay in the system and benefit the wetlands surrounding the lake and the lake itself. As more farmers implement these water-saving tools, it frees the supply for other uses, including the natural environment.
As a former legislator, I worked to pass legislation to improve how we use our water supply. The 2022 legislative session was a record year with about $500 million in appropriations that will yield long-term water savings. We also changed water law to allow water to stay in the system and benefit the environment. It’s a great start, but we need to do more.
In my role as the executive director for the Department of Natural Resources, I pledge to look for innovative ideas and work with elected officials, state agencies and stakeholders to find solutions to the challenges we face. Our natural resources play a significant role in the quality of life we enjoy, and it’s a legacy I want to leave for generations to come.
Joel Ferry, DNR executive director