Guest opinion: The threat of doing nothing on Utah Lake
Many of us have gotten used to the signs on Utah Lake warning about the threats of harmful algal blooms and water-borne pathogens: Do not swim or water ski in this area! Do not ingest water! Keep children and animals away from the lake!
We believe that’s unacceptable.
The simple fact is that Utah Lake’s water quality challenges are predominantly man-made. “The lake is the receiving body for wastewater treatment plant effluent, industrial discharges, stormwater discharges, and nonpoint source runoff,” explains the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. For 150 years, these nutrient contaminants have been accumulating in the sediments of Utah Lake and are a major source of water quality degradation.
The challenges threatening Utah Lake extend beyond water quality. High evaporation, invasive fish species, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, invasive phragmites reeds, significant turbidity, loss of critical components of the lake’s food web, together mean that the water, ecosystem, and long-term viability of Utah Lake remain significantly threatened.
The Utah Lake Restoration Project is a collaborative effort to save Utah Lake, its waters, its wildlife and its ecosystem. The planning and guidance for this project is more than six years in the making and was developed by a team of scientists, engineers, and Ph.D.s with decades of experience in restoring lakes and waterways from nutrient pollution and environmental contamination.
The project is designed to accomplish the following objectives:
- Restore the clarity and quality of the water
- Conserve water resources
- Preserve water storage and water supply functions
- Remove invasive plant and animal species, including phragmites and carp
- Restore littoral zone and other plant communities
- Restore and conserve native fish and other aquatic species
- Increase the suitability of Utah Lake and its surrounding areas for shore birds, waterfowl, and other avian species
- Improve navigability
- Enhance and ensure recreational access and opportunities
- Preserve current water rights related to water associated with Utah Lake
- Otherwise improve the use of Utah Lake for residents and visitors
State leaders explored how to pay for comprehensive recovery efforts for Utah Lake. A key question was whether Utah taxpayers could afford the billions of dollars needed for recovery or whether a public/private partnership would be more viable. A taxpayer funded model would mean each Utah County household would face a tax bill of up to $40,000. Few if any Utah County residents would support a tax increase of that magnitude. After studying the facts, former Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Sen. Mike McKell, and the Utah State Legislature chose to pursue the fiscally responsible path of collaborating with the private sector.
Some have attempted to characterize the Utah Lake Restoration Project as no more than a dredging project or suggest that its proponents are simply developers desiring to profit from real estate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Lake Restoration Solutions is a conservation-minded social enterprise guided by the primary objectives of restoring and enhancing Utah Lake and maximizing the public benefits. Since 2018, Lake Restoration Solutions has assembled a team of world-class experts with decades of experience restoring impaired waterways. We have worked extensively on science-based solutions to address the needs of Utah Lake and interests of a diverse range of stakeholders. We have secured the $6.5 billion in funding commitments needed to fund these conservation solutions. We have invested millions of dollars into studies, research, engineering, and modeling informing the science-based solutions to restore Utah Lake — all without increasing the tax burden on hard-working Utahns.
The status quo on Utah Lake is not good enough. The opportunity to act is now. The Utah Lake Restoration Project means a brighter future for Utah Lake is possible through monumental collaboration, strategic partnerships, and thoughtful on-the-ground conservation efforts. We are inspired by those who have come together to contribute to making the solutions needed to restore Utah Lake possible. We strongly encourage all Utahns to support the Utah Lake Restoration Project and the planning, implementation and conservation investments being undertaken to restore Utah Lake.
Jon Benson is the president and chief operating officer at Lake Restoration Solutions. A graduate from Brigham Young University in Business Management and Strategy, Jon joined the Utah Lake Restoration Project team during its formative years and has helped develop the company’s cost and revenue strategies on land creation, horizontal-development assets and revenue financial modeling. He and his family are residents of Alpine.