Environmentalists meet and discuss opposition to Lake Utah island proposal | News, Sports, Jobs


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Ben Abbott, left, and Gabriella Lawson, second from left, lead a discussion on the ecology of Lake Utah on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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People gather along the Provo / Jordan River Parkway to discuss the future of Lake Utah on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Lake Utah is seen from the Provo / Jordan River Boardwalk on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Ben Abbott, left, and Gabriella Lawson, right, lead a discussion on the ecology of Lake Utah on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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People sign a petition designed to show their opposition to island building on Lake Utah on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

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Last week, several Utah County environmental groups joined together to create the Coalition Against Paving Utah Lake. On Saturday, dozens of people gathered at Utah Lake State Park to discuss a proposed plan to build islands on the lake and what steps can be taken to move forward.

The conversations took place in light of the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency has placed the Lake Utah restoration project plan on a waiting list for water infrastructure loans. Ben Abbott, assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University, pointed out during the meeting that the waitlist for EPA funds through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act is no longer not an endorsement that the plan is focused on green conservations – just that it meets the qualifications as an infrastructure-related plan.

The overall discussion, which took place in a circle away from the lakeside, mainly focused on the potential ecological damage that the organizers said could be done if the islands were built. Gabriella Lawson, who recently received her Masters in Aquatic Ecology from BYU, answered questions surrounding the matter.

Her master’s research, titled “Utah Lake’s Cyanobacteria Proliferation and Toxin Production in Response to Nitrogen and Phosphorous Additions” was published in 2020.

She discussed the possibility that an environmental impact assessment, which should be carried out for the project, could lead to a determination of danger for the June sucker. The June sucker, which is endemic to Lake Utah, was recently removed from the endangered species list to be labeled “threatened.”

“A danger determination basically says it would endanger a federally protected species, and anything about their proposal puts the June sucker in danger,” Lawson said. “Even if they are able to somehow say that while these islands are being built, like ‘we won’t kill a single June sucker, we will restore things for the June sucker” – the June sucker is a shallow-water species and could never live in a lake in Utah as deep as they suggest.

The Lake Utah Restoration Project plan to build islands in the lake would be accomplished by using sediment from the lake bed to build the islands. This, in turn, would deepen the lake which has an average depth of 9 feet.

The Saturday meeting was akin to preaching to the choir. Those who traveled to the lake by bicycle to discuss the impacts of the plan are already linked to the problem. To move forward and effect change, we need to broaden the base of supporters.

For Abbot, teaching about its history is an important factor in getting people to care about the preservation of Lake Utah. He mentioned its importance to the Timpanogos nation for thousands of years and, more recently, its value to the pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“If people had a relationship with Utah Lake, they would never have allowed the Legislature to create the possibility of it being destroyed,” Abbott said.

It was a shared sentiment, echoed by Rebecca Frei, a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta and former BYU student in attendance. Frei, who recently started working with Conserve Utah Valley, believes that if there were deeper connections to the lake in the community, opposition to the development would be more widespread.

Frei said that Utah Lake has historically been a social hub for valley residents and rekindling this attitude could be beneficial for individuals. She also mentioned developers who prefer to build houses and properties around the lake as is.

“The more people know about Utah Lake, the more they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, this is a great place, we don’t want these islands,'” she said.

The question also has a financial aspect. According to the plans for the islands, if they are built, an island city would be built on the 150 square mile lake. This city would then have real estate to sell, houses and businesses to build, and a whole network of infrastructure projects that could potentially make money for the local economy.

“There is a false choice that has been raised, not only in Utah but all over the world, ‘It’s either the economy or the environment,'” Abbott said. “What we’ve learned time and time again is that when you manage the environment and conserve the environment in the right way, it’s good for the economy in the long run. “

He also believes that after discussing the plan with engineers and researchers, the plan to build the islands and above them is “an impossible project”. Similar islands have been built in the United States and around the world, but none on the scale of the proposed construction of Lake Utah.

Ryan Benson, CEO of the Utah Lake Restoration Project, told the Daily Herald on Tuesday, “The different components of the project have been implemented in locations all over America with great success. This is how these projects are carried out.

The overall goal of environmentalists is to repeal Law HB 172, originally passed in 2018, which would return Utah Lake to a public trust and prevent future developments. Abbott said he met with several state officials and state senators to advance this repeal during the 2022 legislative general session. He is also encouraged by the skepticism of local officials around Utah Lake about the plan. .

Abbot and others will distribute a magazine with photos and layman information on Utah Lake. Participants in the Saturday conversation include members of the Provo Bicycle Collective, Conserve Utah Valley, research students and others concerned about potential development.

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