BYU conservationists take a stand against Lake Utah development

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BYU conservationists oppose a proposal to dredge the bottom of Lake Utah and build several large islands. (Brigham Tomco)

Local advocates with links to BYU are working to publicize a 2018 proposal to develop Utah Lake and the repercussions that could result from its enabling legislation.

The proposal, designed by Lake Restoration Solutions LLC and titled “The Utah Lake Restoration Project,” contains plans to dredge the bottom of Lake Utah over several years, making it deeper, clearer and supposedly healthier.

From the dredged material, Lake Restorations Solutions intends to build several massive islands that will turn Lake Utah into an attractive destination for wildlife enthusiasts, tourists and residents, according to the company’s website.

The project is designed as a solution to Utah’s rapidly growing population and a way to improve what the proposal calls “a broken ecosystem,” referring to the lake’s endemic algal blooms and the presence of ‘invasive species.

However, despite its stated goal of restoring Lake Utah, the proposal has met opposition from some members of the BYU community.

BYU Ecosystem and Ecology Professor Benjamin Abbott specializes in aquatic ecology. He has been one of the most vocal critics of the proposal.

Although Abbott grew up in Utah County, his research has only focused on Lake Utah since 2018, when his watershed ecology class chose to focus on the lake for their project of a semester.

His class’s study of the lake coincided with the announcement of the Lake Utah Restoration Project. As Abbott studied the proposal, he grew increasingly concerned.

“The developers call it the Lake Utah Restoration Project. But that has nothing to do with ecological restoration, ”he said. “It’s a radical reengineering of the lake system. “

This “radical engineering” is likely to do more harm than good, Abbott said: “When you make major changes, there are always unintended consequences. “

Feeling personally responsible for preserving Lake Utah, Abbott said he has worked tirelessly to educate policymakers about the ecological impact of the restoration project and persuade them to change a 2018 bill, HB 272. This bill paved the way for projects such as “Utah Lake Restoration Project” to be considered, accepted and donated land by state agencies.

Abbott is not alone in devoting an enormous amount of time to this cause. Andrew Follett, a former BYU student who grew up in Pleasant Grove, has also become increasingly invested in the effort since taking Abbott’s course in 2018.

By the time he took Abbott’s class, Follett was studying environmental science. However, the semester’s focus on Lake Utah, including the legal intricacies that made it vulnerable to exploitation, persuaded Follett to change course and study environmental law instead.

Now a law student at Yale University, Follett is in a better position to make the change at home.

“Going to law school provided me with the tools to engage more meaningfully with the legal ramifications of the Island proposal in the first place, and second, in the process of somewhat affecting So Utah law, ”Follett said.

Follett and Abbott are working with state lawmakers to fundamentally change the Utah Lake Restoration Act. The changes would clarify the definition of restoration, make the process of obtaining public lands like Utah Lake more stringent, and “close the loophole so that irresponsible and risky projects like this are not possible in the future,” he said. Abbott said.

Some members of the BYU community are fighting against legislation to dredge the bottom of Lake Utah. (Brigham Tomco)

Students on campus also play an influential role in raising awareness of this issue. Political science student Adam Johnson was a key figure in starting and running Conserve Utah Valley, a local nonprofit that, according to the organization’s website, is “committed to protecting and maintaining the precious canyons, foothills, open spaces and waters of the Utah Valley. . “

Conserve Utah Valley was formed in 2020 in response to the proposed development of Bridal Veil Falls. The organization has become an influential force in local politics where it organizes efforts to preserve the natural resources that the Utahns love most.

“What we’re mainly trying to do is just educate people,” Johnson said. “There is currently a lot of misinformation circulating about what this proposal to build islands on Lake Utah would actually entail. And we want to help remove all of this misinformation so people can make a good, informed choice about the real effects of it. “

Abbott, Follett, and Johnson have all mentioned ways in which BYU students can get involved.

A Utah Lake summit will be held on Tuesday, January 11 in the auditorium of the UVU Science Building at 6:30 pm The summit is hosted by Conserve Utah Valley and Representative Keven Stratton, R-Orem, and aims to educate the public about Utah. The ecological importance of the lake and the negative consequences likely to result from the proposed development.

“I think this is the most important meeting or event on Utah Lake this year,” Abbott said. “It will show the legislature that we take seriously the wise and conservative management of this incredible ecosystem in which we are privileged to live.”

Students can also visit dontpaveutahlake.org, a branch of Conserve Utah Valley, where they can sign a petition to “join the call for meaningful change in the 2022 Utah state legislature.”

But perhaps the most important thing students can do to get involved and connect with Lake Utah, according to Abbott, is to visit it.

Visit utahlake.org to learn more.

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