When you think of Utah Lake, what comes to mind? You might think it’s gross, it smells bad, there’s toxic algae, and it’s probably not a place where you’d like to spend time. But don’t give up on it just yet. There is something we as Utahns can do to improve it. The problems of Utah Lake are primarily human caused, and if we work together, we can once again have a thriving and healthy lake. Lake Restoration Solutions invites all of Utah to work together to save Utah Lake.
The Utah Lake Restoration Project is a comprehensive, holistic approach to healing the ecosystem. Utah Lake was naturally in a clear-water state with significant submerged vegetation on the lakebed. Due to the introduction of invasive species and decades of nutrient pollution and neglect, and other challenges the lake now has significant toxic algal blooms, is teeming with mosquitoes and carp, and most people avoid recreating there.
Utah Lake loses over 120 billion gallons of precious water to evaporation every year. That is more than 40% of the lake’s total volume. The surface area of the lake is about 90,000 acres with an average depth of only about nine feet.
To decrease evaporation, the lake’s surface area must be reduced. This is done by dredging the bottom of the lake and using the soil to create dredge containment areas, or islands. This process is done without lowering the lake levels. The current proposal reduces the surface area by about 20% which will save tens of billions of gallons of water each year.
Bringing life back to Utah Lake
One of the objectives of the project is to restore submerged aquatic vegetation on the lakebed. Historically, submerged vegetation served as a critical component of the ecosystem’s food web. It also anchored the lakebed sediments and provided habitat for aquatic species. This vegetation is virtually nonexistent on the lakebed. Dredging to deepen the lake and strategic placement of dredge containment areas will reduce wave forces which today prevent reestablishment of submerged vegetation.
Based on sound science
The entire project hinges on an understanding of the lake and employing science-driven solutions. The Utah Lake Restoration Project has assembled a team of top experts to plan, design, and execute the plan. They come from a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines with decades of experience restoring impaired waterways.
In addition to reviewing historical data and studies, the team continues to gather an unprecedented amount of new information about the lake and its ecosystem to inform restoration and enhancement plans.
Dredging the lake and creating containment areas (islands) provides several environmental benefits. These include removing contaminated lakebed sediments, enabling restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation, reducing evaporation, expanding shoreline by 190 miles, increasing wetland areas, and building new habitat areas for birds and fish.
There will be three types of islands created by the project: wildlife/estuary islands, recreation islands, and community islands. Wildlife islands are designed to provide ideal habitat for avian species, including migratory birds. Recreation islands include wildlife habitat and are designed to provide incredible public recreation opportunities including camp sites, picnic areas, beaches, docks and trails. The community islands will house beautiful, sustainable master-planned communities that cover the cost of restoration. That is what pays for the billions of dollars of restoration work that is needed without increasing taxes. Approximately 50% of the land created is for public recreation, wildlife habitat, public access, and open space.
The project team recently completed an extensive geophysical study of the lakebed sediments, and world-renowned geotechnical engineers are currently conducting further in-depth analyses of its soils to create the final dredging and engineering plans.
The project is at the beginning of an extensive environmental review process which will take 18-24 months or longer. Everything must be done according to the National Environmental Policy Act, which includes an in-depth review by state and federal agencies including the EPA, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. This process includes evaluation of scientific data and research by experts in water, habitat, endangered species, and more. Federal regulators will lead a thorough and objective review of the project that considers public interest and environmental factors. This is a methodical and transparent public process. Public input and feedback are encouraged.
Together, we can make a difference
If we all work together, we can restore Utah Lake to a healthy, thriving ecosystem that benefits everyone. From helping to ease the state’s current water shortages, to providing a safe, clean area for recreation, and a thriving habitat for plant and animal life, the objectives of the Utah Lake Restoration Project deserve monumental collaboration.
Join us in imagining a better Utah Lake. Learn more at imagineutahlake.org.