Uit could soon become the largest man-made island project in human history.
The Lake Utah Restoration Project is a $ 6.4 billion project, of which $ 2.2 billion is spent on dredging Lake Utah, deepening the lake by seven feet, and using the remaining sediment. to create artificial islands in the center of the lake.
According to the project’s website: “A combination of interconnected challenges has contributed to the degradation of Lake Utah. The Lake Utah Restoration Project is a comprehensive conservation project that will restore the lake to a much cleaner, clearer, and safer condition. “
The islands will include a combination of parks, beaches, trail systems, residential areas and business districts. According to a proposal put forward by the project: “Islands are the economic engine that attracts private funding for the $ 6.4 billion investment in conservation.
Representative Brady Brammer of the Utah House of Representatives sponsored the bill that would make this project possible. At the 2021 Lake Utah Symposium, he explained that with two or three deaths on Lake Utah each year, he hopes this project improves the safety of the lake.
“One of the things we have to deal with on the lake is people don’t realize how big it is,” said Brammer. “It’s a very cloudy lake and the winds have an impact on the sediments and stir them up quite a bit. To some extent, islands can act as a windbreak and help alleviate some of the turbidity. This can therefore increase the safety on the lake a little.
Julie Fullmer, mayor of Vineyard, one of the many towns bordering Lake Utah, spoke about how she anticipates the impact of islands on the local economy. “If done right, it could improve wind cycles for the people who live there,” she said. “It could increase the value of homes along the shores of the lake. I think it would probably attract more businesses to the area, because if you made those islands more accessible for lake users it would attract people to a destination location.
Despite these advantages, the project encountered some setback from community members. A petition to stop the project has more than 460 signatures and claims the project is both impossible and destructive. The petition quotes Dr. Sam Rushforth, Dean of the UVU College of Science, Emeritus, who said: “The ‘restoration’ of Utah Lake as presented by the developers is not possible. [It] would destroy the ecology of the lake and could harm a large part of its watershed.
Professor of plant and wildlife sciences, Ben Abbott agrees that the project is impossible. He said: “It is very common for developers to underestimate the technical challenges and the economic costs of the projects they initiate… The largest dredged island in the world is Kansai International Airport, which was built in the Osaka Bay in Japan. The island is approximately 2,500 acres. It took 23 years to plan, license and build, at a cost of around $ 20 billion. Despite careful engineering and environmental studies, when they started building on the island, it sank 27 feet into the sediment. The islands of Lake Utah are said to have an area of 20,000 acres: 8 times the size of Kansai Island. In addition, the bed of Lake Utah is made of unconsolidated marl, the structural integrity of which is much less than the Holocene clay of Osaka Bay.
Abbott has been a declared opponent of the Lake Utah restoration project. In an attempt to show the community the importance of Lake Utah, Abbott has appealed for photos or local artwork that showcases the beauty of the lake. He believes the island project will harm this natural beauty. He argued that the dredging project and the man-made islands would destroy the lake’s resilient ecosystem.
According to Abbott: “The unique characteristics of Lake Utah have helped it maintain much of its function despite decades of abuse… It would damage the invaluable ecosystem services that the lake provides to us for free, including increased local precipitation, cooling the valley during summer extremes, removing nutrients, providing world-class opportunities for recreation and photography, and creating habitat.
While the Lake Utah restoration project claims the islands will improve water quality, Abbott says otherwise. At the Utah Lake Symposium, Abbot explained, “If you were to divide the lake into multiple basins, especially if you were to significantly deepen the lake, I see almost no scenario in which it wouldn’t increase the gravity. and the risk of having these very bad water quality problems, especially with water deoxygenation.
The project hopes to solve any water quality problem through the use of machines. However, Abbott claims this is not a reasonable solution. He explained, “We now have an incredibly resilient ecosystem, and they are proposing to change it and make it more vulnerable to the kinds of pressures that we put on and add a very expensive and complicated solution to a problem that they are creating. . ”
The Lake Utah Restoration Project is presented as a plan to go back 150 years to the degradation of the lake’s ecosystem. Abbott says this statement is based on a claim that the state of the lake is in decline.
“These claims couldn’t be further from the truth,” Abbott said. “Lake Utah has always been shallow and cloudy. In fact, these are some of the attributes that make the lake so remarkably resilient. Numerous studies have shown that the condition of Lake Utah is better than most water bodies in the United States and that its sediments are not contaminated – they are clean and essential to the health of the lake. Dredging would cause immense damage to the lake’s ecosystem while providing no ecological benefit. “
The legality of the project has also been called into question. Craig Galli, a partner at Holland and Hart law firm with expertise in environmental litigation, was invited to speak during a discussion on the laws and policies surrounding Utah Lake. He cited the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act 404. According to Galli, these two laws require exploration of alternatives when discussing potential dredging projects.
More specifically, the Clean Water Act states: “No discharge of dredged or fill material is permitted if there is a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge that would have less negative impact on the aquatic ecosystem as long as the alternative is has no other environmental consequences.
According to Abbott, “There are better, cheaper, non-destructive, and more natural alternative actions that can and should be taken to safely rejuvenate Lake Utah.”
If Abbott is correct about the possible alternatives, the Lake Utah restoration project could face major legal issues before moving forward. As Chicago’s architect and urban designer, Daniel Burnham said, “Don’t make small plans. They do not have the power to stir the blood of men.
The Lake Utah Restoration Project isn’t afraid to dream big. Protecting a part of our natural environment as vast as Lake Utah will require massive initiatives. However, the Lake Utah restoration project may have a long way to go before it is ready for implementation.