Unfortunately, some critics - armed with 20-20 hindsight - are trying to turn the $60 million Great Salt Lake pumping project into a political football. They say Gov. Norm Bangerter used bad judgment in backing the plan.
Yet given the critical situation that existed when the pumping project was approved in 1986, the governor could have been accused of being derelict in his duty if he had not taken some action.The governor can hardly be blamed that by time the pumps were ordered and installed in 1987, the wet weather turned into a near drought, something that not even weather experts were willing to predict.
The critics have convenient memories, ignoring the enormous problem that existed in 1986 when the rising lake had already done an estimated $200 million in damage and threatened to submerge highways, airports, and industries.
Fed by unprecedented wet weather in the early 1980s, the lake rose steadily year after year, reaching a high of 4,211.85 above sea level in June 1986, the highest mark since the pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley. It had seen an 11-foot rise in four years against all guesses otherwise.
The state was faced with the chilling fact that a rise of another two feet would swamp I-80, requiring $300 million to $500 million to rebuild the freeway. A rise of three to four feet would destroy homes, railroads, sewage disposal plants and lakeside industries. The loss in such circumstances would run into the billions.
Local governments were clamoring that the state "do something" to head off disaster. Some weather and lake experts said the wet cycle might last for years. Pumping offered the only quick way to deal the problem. There was bipartisan support in the Legislature. The major criticism at the time was that it could be money wasted because the lake might rise faster than the pumps could handle.
It's hard to see, under the circumstances that existed, how state officials could have done anything else than order the pumps.
For critics to say now that the governor "should have known" that the lake would not continue to rise and that such knowledge was easy to arrive at, is to play fast and loose with reality. It's interesting how wise people can be about what should have been done - after it is all over.
However, the fact that the flood threat has receded does not mean that the pumps have no value. Their presence means that several lakeside industries, badly damaged by the high water, are rebuilding and will stay in Utah. Without the guarantee those pumps represent, they would have shut down.
The pumps also offer security against another unexpected wet cycle and give the state the means to control the lake level from year to year.
The pumps exist, they already have been of value, and their installation was a gamble that had to be taken. There was no other option. Trying to make political hay out of those facts does a disservice to a great many people including Bangerter, who made the tough decision, and former Gov. Scott Matheson who conceived the pumping idea. They did what had to be done under the circumstances.