Utah Lake Summit

May 23, 2017

On May 24, 2017, CUWCD organized and sponsored a summit to invite various Utah Lake stakeholders to meet in one location and hear a panel of experts discuss a variety of topics essential to better understand the nature of Utah Lake. The Summit was held at the Utah County Convention Center, where 14 different presenters shared history and insight about the challenges, complexities and accomplishments in managing all aspects of Utah Lake.

A capacity crowd of about 250 people started the day by listening to a local lake historian, Robert Carter, share fascinating facts about the rich social, economic, and recreational history of the lake. A brief overview of topics are as follows:

  • Robert Carter, historian, shared reflections of the History of Utah Lake, including a story of Jim Bridger telling Brigham Young not to let people settle in Utah County because the local Indians would not like it and also how a drought in the 1930s left the lake with only one foot of water.

  • Dr. Steven Nelson, BYU, shared research from sediment freeze cores where sediment aging shows that Utah Lake has been a shallow warm lake for a long time, and only 4-6 inches additional lake sediment has been added since the pioneers arrived in 1847. View the presentation here.

  • Eric Ellis, Utah Lake Commission, talked about the goals of the Commission, and the need to protect and develop more recreation opportunities on and around Utah Lake.View the presentation here.

  • Jason Allan, Utah Lake State Park, provided insight into the various recreational uses on and around the lake including 5 public marinas, over 600 trailer parking stalls, and an estimated 400,000 annual visitors to the lake. He also identified a number of future concerns including Quagga Mussel threat, aging infrastructure, algae blooms, and changing water levels.View the presentation here.

  • Rich Tullis, CUWCD, provided an understanding of CUWCD's roll in Utah Lake as it relates to Central Utah Project operations. Water deliveries, water rights, and trans-basin deliveries from Strawberry Reservoir were addressed including data that shows the lake is presently about one foot deeper than it would be without CUP deliveries to the lake. View the presentation here.

  • Jared Manning, Utah Division of Water Rights, explained the roll of the State Engineer in determining who has the right to use the water in Utah Lake and differences between direct flow uses from tributaries and upstream storage uses affecting Utah Lake as well as operations under the Utah Lake Distribution Plan. He gave some history on the Utah Lake pumping plant and addressed the high Utah Lake evaporation rates. View the presentation here.

  • Jodi Gardberg, DWQ, discussed the 2016 algal bloom on Utah Lake and identified the need to better understand toxic algal blooms and the need to evaluate future nutrient level requirements.View the presentation here.

  • Dr. Theron Miller, Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, discussed the nutrient loads in Utah Lake and generally questioned the value in requiring more stringent nutrient removal for waste water discharges into Utah Lake.View the presentation here.

  • Dr. LaVere Merrett, Prof. Emeritus, BYU, invited attendees to take a closer look at the nutrient loads to Utah Lake. His conclusion was that investing large sums of money to reduce nutrients would likely result in no water quality improvement and suggested that the lake is naturally chemically cleansing itself magnificently. View the presentation here.

  • Mike Mills, CUWCD, shared insight into the carp removal project, and how to date - 25 million pounds of carp have been removed from Utah Lake. The results are encouraging as the desired outcome of increased vegetation is being realized which is providing critical refuge habitat for June sucker recovery. View the presentation here.

  • Mike Rau, CUWCD, evaluated the available data to identify the factors that cause algal blooms, including identifying that a lack of wind was a primary cause of the 2016 algal bloom on Utah Lake. He also identified the future research needs to better understand future harmful algae blooms on Utah Lake. View the presentation here.

  • Scott Daly, DWQ, outlined the future Utah Lake Water Quality Study, with goals to understand nutrient dynamics, the nutrient loading characteristics and effects, and the cost and benefits in reducing nutrients from wastewater, stormwater, and agricultural runoff. The study will include a 16 member steering committee, and a 5-7 member science panel. View the presentation here.

  • Dr. Greg Carling, BYU, discussed the fate of phosphorus inputs to Utah Lake, with research that suggests that the sediments in the lake are loaded with nutrients (phosphorus) and that while roughly 50% are not bioavailable to support algae blooms as a food source, there is another 50% of iron-bound phosphorus that can become “mobile” and thus available to provide food for future algae blooms. View the presentation here.

  • Dr. David Richards, OreoHelix Consulting, wrapped up the summit by identifying the major ecosystem shift that has taken place over time in Utah Lake, including a loss of native fish and mollusks. He labeled Utah Lake as a shallow, turbid, slightly brackish eutrophic, highly-regulated storage reservoir, and he shared a theory that larval midges play a central role in controlling nutrients in the lake. He stated that while Utah Lake has lost species diversity over time, it more than makes up for it in being a very productive lake. View the presentation here.

The closing remarks were provided by Gene Shawcroft, CUWCD general manager, who communicated that by the year 2060 the population of Utah is projected to double, and the demands and impacts on Utah Lake will also increase – resulting in an increased need for ongoing cooperative efforts by all stakeholders to provide for the future.