With Utah in the midst of historic drought and rising warm temperatures, the future of the state’s largest freshwater lake is uncertain.
For years, Utah Lake has been plagued by poisonous algal blooms, invasive plants and fish, and water demand is increasing from the rapidly expanding Utah County.
One proposed solution is making headlines – a multi-billion-dollar dredging effort to deepen the lake by an average of 7 feet. Dredged material is used to create man-made islands, some for development, recreation and wildlife.
Named the Utah Lake Restoration Project, some form of the idea has been considered for years. But on January 6th Lake Restoration Solutions He filed an application for the permits required to proceed with the project, saying the proposal is closer to reality. The company claims to be a healthy lake with deep lake, cool temperatures and low moss blooms.
The project is possible HB272. Approved in 2018, it authorizes the Utah Division of Forest, Fire and State Lands, which oversees the lake bottom, to dispose of Utah Lake as a remedy for comprehensive restoration if certain conditions are met.
Both the restoration plan and legislation are facing a tough local push, including 100-plus scientists Who recently signed the letter Speaking against the project, and the Utah Sierra Club Chapter, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Timpanogos Nation are among the groups promoting the petition to amend the HB272.
The petition says the dredging project is “sure to fail, leaving a huge environmental mess for Utah taxpayers to clean up.”
The split was demonstrated Tuesday as stakeholders met at the University of Utah Valley to discuss the future of the lake. Rep. The Utah Lake Summit, organized by Keven Stratton, R-Orem, brought together scientists, lawmakers, government officials and the public.
“One of the big things is we don’t see things the same way,” Stratton said. “I don’t see it as a negative, I see it as a positive. Different perspectives will definitely lead to a better solution.
Ben Abbott, a professor of aquatic ecology at Brigham Young University, opened the summit with a presentation depicting a positive view of the lake, contrary to what some developers and government officials say.
He said during his presentation that habitat and biodiversity are improving, invasive species such as phragmites and carp are being eliminated, the native June sucker is rebounding, water flows are increasing and the notorious poisonous algae blooms are on the decline.
“And finally, we have a population that cares about Lake Utah,” Abbott concluded, calling the lake “the center of our community” and “an important part of our identity.”
Abbott was a staunch opponent of the restoration project, and on Tuesday he drew a parallel to China’s Taihu Lake, which “ended with many enormous tragedies” after a large dredging operation. He pointed to the Great Salt Lake Causeway, which divided the lake in half, drastically changing its salinity levels.
The pontiff said the lake is elastic and does not need a multi-billion dollar dredging project. He told stakeholders that small-scale restoration efforts that have been ongoing for years have been successful.
The land transfer, which the petition calls “the largest government contribution in Utah history,” has been the subject of many participants pressing members of Lake Restoration Solutions on who owns the islands.
Jeff Hartley, a project spokesman, pushed back on the assumption that the islands were entirely privately owned.
“The lake is a sovereign land, it is always a sovereign land,” he said.
“We can appeal to the Legislature to give up some of the territories we’ve created, which don’t exist today, it’s islands,” Hartley said.
It is not clear how much land the state will hand over. Responding to what some say is a lack of transparency, John Benson, president of Lake Restoration Solutions, said that after reviewing the Army Corps of Engineers, the public looks at comprehensive plans.
“We can’t hold it and say, ‘We can wait to give it.’ No, we can’t really wait for it to come out,” he said.
Benson and Hartley are both activist groups and the petition alleges a lack of science in the project, which is unfair, he said.
A man who identifies himself as an ecologist, he says, “has seen beautiful pictures … convincing pictures, but some science deep enough for me to suggest that the lake is safe because we’re talking about the whole ecosystem.”
In response, Benson said the public application to the Army Corps of Engineers was “full of science, data and all the research we’ve been doing for the past two years.”
As part of the process directed by the National Environmental Policy Act, the public is allowed to submit public comments after reviewing the application.