How should we decide the fate of Utah Lake?
When the Utah Lake Restoration Project announced its plans to build the world’s-largest artificial islands in the center of Utah Lake, the idea sparked backlash. There was a public petition asking for the project to be stopped, a letter signed by over 100 scientists outlining the potential harm of the project, and a rally at the state capitol building to encourage legislators to protect the lake.
The project has also led to a $3 million lawsuit, followed by a countersuit between the Utah Lake Restoration Project and Dr. Ben Abbott, a professor of ecosystem ecology who has been a key player in the fight against the creation of artificial islands. Though the lawsuits have yet to reach a settlement, continued tension around the project has left many wondering how best to decide the fate of a major resource like Utah Lake.
“Water is a life source we cannot live without,” says Mary Murdock Meyer, CEO of Timpanogos Nation. “[Utah] Lake [has] sustained our people for many generations. Water to drink, fish to eat, a place for ceremony and prayer. When the pioneers came, they used its abundance to help in their survival… This lake holds historic meaning to all of us.”
The question of control over this important shared resource will be a major topic of the current legislative session as legislators meet to discuss HB 232, a bill to shift control of Utah Lake to a centralized authority. Currently, control of the lake is divided between various government entities and a potential shift of power would consolidate control over the future of Utah Lake to one group.
Critics of the bill fear giving one group complete control over land use, environmental clean-up, and restoration decisions would cause decisions to be made without careful review, scientific input, and sufficient feedback from Utah residents, especially because there have already been problems with proposed restoration plans so far.
Regarding the future of the lake, Dr. Abbott believes decisions are much too big to go forward without extensive discussion. “Depending on how you think of it, this is a 150 square mile decision,” he says in reference to the Utah Lake Restoration Project. “Or a 30,000-year decision, looking back to the Pleistocene origins of this lake that deposited this valley bottom.”
From the beginning of the Utah Lake Restoration Project proposal, Abbott has been very vocal over the long-lasting implications of every decision about the lake’s future and control over that future. He explains, “The way we respond to this crisis will influence how our valley grows and what our society grows into.”
Carol-Lyn Jardine, a member of Conserve Utah Valley, shared the same sentiment in an online post. “What is clear, however, is that any legislation significantly affecting a community resource like Utah Lake requires much more rigorous, engaged input and scrutiny than the current Utah Lake Authority proposal has received.”
As we wait for the legislative session to wrap, the Provo City Council has presented a resolution calling for the protection of Utah Lake, citing concerns about the decision-making process concerning Utah Lake in the future.
“We don’t normally find ourselves wanting to jump into every single potential issue that might be before the state legislature, but this is an issue that is such significance to the entire valley, the county, the businesses that depend on the lake, the water rights that depend on the lake,” says Provo City Council member, George Handley.
The leadership of the Utah Lake Restoration Project responded to concerns about the lack of public involvement in the planning process, saying they welcome public involvement and feedback for their plans.
While legislators, private citizens, scientists, environmentalists, engineers, and developers bring different perspectives to the fate of Utah Lake, one thing remains clear; creative collaboration is the only way to truly come up with solutions that meet the needs of the community.