The islands will not come to Utah Lake. What is the new catering plan?

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Kevin Shurtleff’s first experience with Utah Lake came as a teenager when he went waterskiing on the lake in the 1970s.

He points out that there were harmful algal blooms then, just as there are now, but perhaps not as well known as they are today. But gazing at the lake decades after first encountering it, Shurtleff — a chemistry professor at Utah Valley University in Orem — finds a new appreciation for it.

“The problem is that people see swamps, these areas of vegetation, as not being beautiful. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? From my point of view, these areas are beautiful because it’s is what harbors a lot of plant and animal life and things like that.” he said.

Now that Lake Utah is at the center of a statewide restoration program, Shurtleff and other experts say they fear some projects could solve the lake’s shrinking, overgrowth problems. algae or carp infestation; rather, they say that certain restoration ideas would transform Utah Lake into something completely different from what it has been, historically.

Simply put, cleaning up Lake Utah will not turn it into Lake Tahoe or Crater Lake.

“It’s not restoration, it changes the whole nature of the lake,” adds Shurtleff. “It just changes the lake to what you want it to be instead of what it is.”

Shurtleff made the remarks during an online lake solutions discussion hosted by the Utah Valley Earth Forum in Provo on Tuesday night. More than 100 people tuned in to watch a panel of scientific experts from across Utah talk about what’s wrong with the lake and how those issues can be fixed.

The event was scheduled before a state official said last week that a possible solution to restore the quality of the lake, by creating islands from materials dredged from the lake bed, was deemed “unconstitutional”.

Lake Utah: Then and Now

People have used Utah Lake for thousands and thousands of years. Some of the archaeological records near the lake date back to 13,000 BC, said Elizabeth Hora, an archaeologist with the Utah State Office of Historic Preservation, during a presentation earlier this year.

However, it always looked about the same, says Sam Rushforth, dean emeritus of the Utah Valley University College of Science. He came across old pioneer journals that spoke of a “lovely, clear, blue lake” towards the Utah Valley. But as they got closer, they wrote that the lake was not as clear as it appeared from afar.

“It was a bit cloudy. And the first people who went to the lake were very surprised by the emerging vegetation,” he said, pointing out that the lake is home to nearly 700 species of algae. “When they approached the eastern shore from the west, they did not know where to call the shore because of the abundance of emergent vegetation.”

Janice Brahney, an associate professor of watershed science at Utah State University, says studies have indicated there was an abundance of aquatic plants before European settlement, particularly near Goshen Bay and on the east side of the lake.

This apparently started to change when carp were introduced to the lake in the 1880s, as they altered the ecosystem of the lake.

“We know that carp can be very destructive to vegetation growing on the bottom of the lake,” she explained. “They will lift it up and disturb the sediment. And once the sediment is disturbed, not enough light can reach the lake for new growth to occur.”

A change in lake depth at this time was also likely accounted for. Ben Abbott, an associate professor of aquatic ecology at BYU, points out that Lake Utah is actually deeper now than it once was due to a flow control structure installed in the area where the lake empties. in the Jordan. It raised the level of the lake by about 3 feet – the maximum depth of the lake is now 14 feet with an average depth closer to 10 feet.

“I think it’s helpful to compare the lake to a wetland. … The last time Utah Lake was really deep was before it was Utah Lake, when it was part of the Bonneville Lake,” he said.

Rising water levels make it difficult for the lake’s native plants to recover, Brahney said.

Irrigation systems and nutrient alterations from sewage have also taken their toll on the lake. She added that there has been a shift from healthier algal species to more cyanobacteria and blue-green algae associated with harmful algal blooms as the population of the region increases.

The ecosystem and hydrology have helped make Utah Lake an important source for humans and wildlife, but the lake has struggled in recent decades. It is currently listed at 42% capacity by the Utah Division of Water Resources.

Additionally, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality issued another “warning notice” this summer for Lindon Marina, Saratoga Springs Marina, Lincoln Marina, Utah Lake State Park, Sandy Beach, and Provo Bay, due to harmful algal blooms. It has become a regular occurrence almost every summer.

And tens of millions of pounds of carp have been removed from the lake over the past decade, but work to remove the carp continues. All of these misfortunes caused the Utah legislature to take an interest in restoring and improving Utah Lake.

Utah Lake and Sandy Beach in Spanish Fork are pictured on Monday,

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Despite all its recent problems, some panelists said Utah Lake really isn’t in as bad a shape as some have suggested. They believe minor fixes can help restore Utah Lake to its former glory.

“The lake is not in very bad shape,” Rushforth said. “(The) lake is a damn important resource and that’s damn good.”

repair the lake

These minor adjustments are already underway, says Keith Hambrecht, invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Forests, Fires and State Lands. The state division is one of the agencies with boots on the ground trying to eradicate invasive species, like Phragmites, and repair native habitats.

He said Phragmites cover has been reduced by about 70% over the past six years, helping the lake become richer in biodiversity again. It slowly produces the desired results along the way.

“We’re not just seeing a return of bird habits, but pollinator habits as well,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of native grasses coming back. And in some areas, heavy use of monarch butterflies.”

This is just one of the projects in which he participates. Other public agencies are studying the underlying factors of harmful algal blooms and working to restore the Provo River delta to Utah Lake. Wildlife groups have also been successful in moving the June Sucker, a fish species endemic to Utah Lake and the Provo River, from the list of endangered species to that of threatened species through conservation projects. restoration of lake habitat and species population.

One of the most interesting ideas floating around came from Lake Restoration Solutions, which came up with a more than $6 billion plan to create artificial islands by dredging the lake and using materials from the bottom of the lake for them. create. The plan would deepen the lake by an average of 7 feet, while creating new islands for development, recreation and wildlife.

Many panelists on Tuesday had already opposed the plan. Then, last week, the Utah State Forestry, Fire and Lands Division reported to the Utah Legislature that the Utah Attorney General’s Office concluded that the plan was “unconstitutional and not legally valid”. The report adds that the project “poses a risk” to the state of Utah, including possible permanent loss of sovereign lands.

Tuesday’s forum organizer Jim Westwater said Lake Restoration Solutions was invited to join the discussion but did not respond to “repeated” requests to join the panel.

Abbott, who is being sued by Lake Restoration Solutions, said he doesn’t believe solutions have to be flashy. It could be as simple as looking at the history of the lake and fixing the changes that have been made to it over time – something that is already in the works.

“One of the most important things we can do is mimic the hydrology of Utah Lake, where a lot more water has gone to the lake,” he said.

Members of Tuesday’s panel agreed that more collaborative partnerships are needed to find solutions that help the lake, such as the scientific community working with public agencies on projects.

In the meantime, Shurtleff says this newfound interest in the lake is the perfect time for people to explore it like he did as a teenager in the 70s.

“It’s an amazing, beautiful, amazing place,” he said. “We need to reconnect with the lake. … Go hang out on the lake. It’s fantastic, and by doing that, we can change the perception of the lake, and (it) will help us move forward with some of these efforts. to improve water quality.

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