Kristin Murphy, KSL

More $ sought for ailing Utah Lake, drying Great Salt Lake

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL | Posted - Feb. 17, 2020 at 9:27 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of funding requests before a Utah legislative subcommittee aim to boost coordination and research efforts when it comes to the health of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.

Efforts to help the Great Salt Lake are multifaceted, with multiple state entities involved, as well as an advisory council, research groups, advocates and universities.

Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, told the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday the focus is admirable, but more is needed with a coordinator who can sew it all together.

“The Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands is being overrun with these issues that are on the Great Salt Lake, and this coordinator can pull all these different groups together and act as a repository for information over time,” Barlow said.

Barlow said $110,000 for a full-time state coordinator for the Great Salt Lake will further bolster Utah’s efforts to help the lake and its ecosystem.

The Great Salt Lake, the largest saltwater lake in the Western hemisphere and the eighth-largest terminal lake in the world, reached record low levels in recent years and faces more diversions from its tributaries in the future. One study put the economic value of lake at $1.3 billion, but its role in atmospheric chemistry — such as lake effect snow and air pollution — is just now beginning to be understood.

One thing that is certain, however, as the Great Salt Lake continues to dry, it stands out as a major contributor of dust-born pollution.

For the Utah Lake, which is hit seasonally each year with harmful algal blooms, Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is seeking $100,000 to amplify efforts to mitigate those blooms.

The onset of cyanobacteria, or the blue-green algae, can sicken animals and humans due their toxins.

The lake, the third-largest freshwater lake in the United States west of the Mississippi, is a recreation hot spot for many along the Wasatch Front. It is home to the endangered June sucker fish, which exist nowhere else and can live to be 40 years old, according to the Utah Lake Commission.

It is also home to five public boat harbors and/or marinas.

Stratton said the appropriation would amplify studies already underway probing the algae issue on the lake and specifically help a three-year project that will begin this year by the Timpanogos Special Service District. That district treats wastewater of 10 cities in northern Utah County, which is discharged into the lake afterward.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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