Ashtyn Asay, Daily Herald
According to scientists, Utah Lake faces a man-made threat that would cause irreparable damage to the lake and significant loss of public property. Specifically, a Delaware LLC – with no business history in lake restoration – is proposing to “restore” Lake Utah by killing all the fish, dredging the lake, and building a huge island-city complex in the lake – which they would own – to house up to twice the population of Salt Lake City.
According to scientist Sam Rushforth, Dean Emeritus of the UVU College of Science, “The so-called restoration of Lake Utah as proposed by the developers is not possible. It wouldn’t restore the lake. In effect, it would destroy the lake’s ecosystem and potentially harm much of its watershed, including the Utah Valley. The proposed island restoration/construction project would be an environmental disaster – an absolute disaster.
The claims below come from statements offered by the developer to justify the private takeover of much of our public Utah Lake property.
Developer claim: Dredging and the building of an island town are needed and would restore Utah Lake to a clear, pristine state at “zero” cost to ratepayers. Correction: Independent Utah Lake scientists say the lake is naturally shallow and murky, not deep and clear. A pristine lake in Utah never had a huge island-city complex within it with multiple causeways crossing it. Utah taxpayers are already subsidizing the project with a $10,000,000 loan guarantee provided to developers by Utah lawmakers. If the private developer fails, taxpayers would likely be required to pay billions to repair the damage.
Developer claim: Utah Lake is “broken”. He is in poor condition. It is a “cesspool”, a “horror”, a “puddle of mud”. Correction: Utah Lake could do with more help, but the lake is improving in most areas. It is naturally shallow and murky. It’s healthy for the lake.
Developer claim: For decades, efforts to help the lake “proved futile” and “algal blooms in Utah Lake got worse.” Correction: Utah Lake is on the road to recovery thanks to hundreds of state, federal and university restoration projects undertaken over the past 30 years. Algal blooms are actually declining overall.
Developer claim: Utah Lake “evaporation is a significant challenge”, and wind and waves need to be corrected. Correction: In fact, these natural features – evaporation, wind and waves – are beneficial, making the lake incredibly resilient and providing essential services to our community. Evaporation from the lake provides moisture for rain and cooling during the warmer months, and potentially adds much needed snowpack in the winter. Wind and waves keep the water mixed and help prevent fish kills in the summer.
Developer claim: Utah Lake needs to be dredged to restore it. How much to dredge? … “one billion cubic meters.” Correction: According to environmental scientists from BYU, UVU and USU, dredging Utah Lake as proposed by the developers would be harmful. Several studies have shown that healthy sediments remove pollutants and provide habitat. Dredging and the construction of island cities can release pollutants and change the structure and chemistry of the lake, likely making algal blooms more frequent and more damaging.
Developer claim: Restoring Lake Utah will require approximately $6.4 billion in private investment. Correction: Utah Lake can be restored in an environmentally sound way for a fraction of the cost without harmful dredging and without handing over much of our precious public treasury to a private developer. Many useful, successful and restorative projects are currently underway, and more will be realized with public support.
James Westwater, Ph.D., is a resident of Spanish Fork and is president and founder of the Utah Valley Earth Forum, an all-volunteer organization, member of the US Climate Action Network. This opinion is endorsed by the board of directors of the UVEF.