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Plan to restore Utah Lake met with resistance from Utah County conservation groups

December 11, 2021 by admin

The Utah Lake Restoration Project may finally receive the funding it needs to get off the ground, but a Utah County conservation group has started a petition in the hope that will never happen.

On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced 39 new projects that are invited to apply for water infrastructure loans and four new waitlisted projects, of which the Utah Lake plan is one.

“It’s a lake that has a lot of potential, but a lot of challenges,” said Ryan Benson, CEO of Lake Restoration Solutions.

He claims the creation of the islands would add about 40% water storage capacity to the lake, in addition to other ecological benefits.

The process of moving from a waitlisted project to a fully-funded one can take six months to a year, if at all. There has, as of yet, been no guarantee by the EPA that will happen for the Utah Lake project.

The EPA has designated $6.7 billion toward Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans, which are designed to complete water infrastructure projects that will protect public health and water quality.

“Far too many communities still face significant water challenges, making these transformative investments in water infrastructure so crucial,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a press release. “The WIFIA invited projects will deliver major benefits like the creation of good-paying jobs and the safeguarding of public health, especially in underserved and under-resourced communities.”

But according to Ben Abbott, an assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University, the Utah Lake Restoration Project wouldn’t protect public health and water quality, but instead decimate the lake’s positive qualities.

“This (the Utah Lake Restoration Project) would damage the invaluable ecosystem services the lake freely provides us, including increasing local precipitation, cooling the valley during summer extremes, removing nutrients, providing world-class opportunities for recreation and photography, and creating habitat. Indeed, the lake is currently a hot spot of biodiversity, providing habitat for nearly 1,500 species, including 10 million fish, 35 million water birds, and 69 kinds of mammals, amphibians and reptiles,” Abbott said. “How would a project that directly destroys the resilient qualities of the lake make things better?”

Abbott was a part of the Utah Lake Symposium, an event that brought together ecological, legal and management experts to discuss the status and future of Utah Lake.

Benson claims, “The various components of the project have been implemented in places all over America very successfully. This is the way these projects are done.”

He added that they have brought in scientists, engineers and more to make sure things are done to protect the ecology of the lake.

The Utah Lake Symposium, Conserve Utah Valley, Utah Valley Earth Forum, Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment have banded together to create The Coalition Against Paving Utah Lake.

The group’s petition, entitled “Don’t Pave Utah Lake,” launched on Monday and calls for the immediate repeal of HB 272, the law that allows for Utah Lake development, and asks the Legislature to stop any bills in the 2022 legislative session that would allow for future island development in Utah Lake.

The coalition and petition were spearheaded by Conserve Utah Valley, an environmental conservation group that came together in 2020 after Bridal Veil Falls in Provo faced prospects of commercial development.

According to Adam Johnson, the assistant executive director of Conserve Utah Valley, the petition has already received immense support from Utah County residents.

“We immediately received massive public support. In fact, we had to upgrade our website to a new server to support the hundreds of new visitors to our website,” Johnson said. “Not only are Utah citizens stepping up, organizations are. Many organizations are reaching out to join the coalition to repeal HB 272. I’m confident that this is a direct reflection of what the people want, to leave the lake in the hands of the people of Utah”

According to Abbott and other researchers, Utah Lake’s ecosystem has been recovering and healing on it’s own. They believe that dredging parts of the lake and creating expansive islands could throw off that recovery process catastrophically.

“The developers claim that 1. Utah Lake’s condition is bad and getting worse, 2. the lake needs to be dredged and 3. the lake used to be deep and clear. These claims couldn’t be farther from the truth. Utah Lake has always been shallow and cloudy. In fact, these are some of the attributes that make the lake so remarkably resilient,” Abbott said. “Multiple studies have found that Utah Lake’s status is better than most water bodies in the U.S., and its sediment is not contaminated — it is clean and crucial to the health of the lake. Dredging would cause immense damage to the lake ecosystem while not providing any ecological benefit.”

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