In Finland, there is a phrase to describe an offer of help that ends badly: âa bear serviceâ. Think of a bear offering to help at a china store.
Some private real estate developers are now offering a “downgrade” which will not go well. They propose to save Lake Utah by building islands out of lake bottom sediment, radically turning the lake into something it never was. They then plan to house up to half a million people on the man-made islands.
The plans of the developers – called the Utah Lake Restoration Project – are aimed at solving problems in Lake Utah, including algae blooms, chemical pollution, cloudy water, invasive species and scarce water evaporation. Let’s take a look at these questions and what the latest science is saying.
Algal blooms occur on Lake Utah, as it does on two-thirds of other freshwater lakes in the world. However, BYU researchers report that the overall algal bloom in Lake Utah has declined over the past 35 years, and satellite imagery indicates that Lake Utah suffers less than most other bodies of water from Utah. It is not known how building islets would reduce algal blooms.
Chemical nutrients entering the lake are indeed a problem that has been greatly reduced as surrounding towns have improved their wastewater treatment. There is still work to be done, but what about the wastewater of these future islanders? What about the lawn fertilizer they can use?
Cloudy water (turbidity) is indeed a factor in Lake Utah, and this has always been due to the shallow depth and high evaporation. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with sailboats, powerboats, water skis, jet skis, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, etc.
And turbidity actually reduces the duration and frequency of algal blooms by reducing the sunlight that energizes the cyanobacteria that cause the blooms. The developers intend to clarify the water in Lake Utah, which would actually lead to an increase in algae blooms.
Invasive species (garbage fish) exist in Lake Utah, as well as sport fish. The developers plan to poison every fish in the lake – sport and waste – in what would be the biggest fish-killer, or fish-killer, treatment in history. The carp introduced by pioneers from Utah increased the turbidity of the lake because, unlike our endangered native June suckers, the carp eat plants that cover and protect the lake bottom.
The good news is that the Utah Department of Natural Resources eliminates millions of pounds of invasive carp per year, which has reduced their numbers by 75%. Meanwhile, our native June sucker is rebounding and the US Fish & Wildlife Service has removed it from the “endangered” list. Carp reduction seems like a far more sensible solution than the developers’ plans to kill it all.
The rare water evaporation is listed by the developers as an issue they intend to address by reducing the total area of ââLake Utah with their man-made islands.
However, a recent report from the BYU Utah Lake Symposium indicates that this evaporation is not a problem but a vital benefit, part of the local water cycle, in which “landlocked areas like ours receive more than two-thirds of the water. their precipitation from evaporation and transpiration upstream of the wind. land and lakes. Secondly, this evaporation increases the local humidity and decreases the temperatureâ¦ â
It is true that we are going through a severe long-term drought, but unlike the Great Salt Lake, the level of Lake Utah has been stabilized and raised by intelligent upstream management, which gives the Great Salt Lake a reliable supply via the Jordan River. . . That and conserving water are our best bets, and building islands in the lake seems likely to cause more water problems than it solves.
GOOD LEGISLATION AND BAD BACKGROUND
This year, many residents of Utah County and several lawmakers in Provo did come to the defense of Bridal Veil Falls as it was threatened by private development. The public consensus on this defense was uniformly positive.
However, in 2018, our lawmakers passed HB 272, which allows part of the Utah Lake bed to be sold to a private developer if certain conditions are met. Given that the lake and its bed are held in the public trust by the state of Utah, this seems problematic. We hope our lawmakers will be as vigilant about protecting Lake Utah as they were about Bridal Veil Falls.
The developers of the Lake Utah restoration project often refer to the precedent of the man-made islands in Dubai, which is part of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. They do not mention that the construction of these islands resulted in huge environmental problems or that several of the islands are in fact being plunged back into the sea.
Those behind the Lake Utah restoration project may have good intentions, but it sounds like what the Finns would call a âbear service,â destined for disaster.
Don Jarvis is an environmental volunteer from Provo and a retired BYU professor. Ben Abbott is an ecologist in the Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences at BYU.