Road map in place for rehabilitating Utah Lake

Published July 1, 2009 4:43 pm

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Formally adopting the Utah Lake Master Plan made Lewis Billings think of one of 1970s pop star Karen Carpenter's hits: "We've only just begun."

"The good news is that we have begun," said Billings, Provo mayor and chairman of the Utah Lake Commission. "And I think we have begun in a very positive way."

The commission -- comprised of representatives from 13 Utah County cities, the county commission, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and state agencies -- formally adopted a plan that serves as a road map for rehabilitating the lake.

While the plan represents the culmination of two years of early-morning meetings and public hearings on the document, commission members agree the work isn't done.

"It is the end of the beginning," said Christine Finlinson, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District's government affairs director and a lake commission member. During the drafting stage, the district provided technical assistance to the commission and she said the district will help move the plan forward.

"[The conservancy district] has got to be a part of it," Finlinson said.

Dick Buehler, director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said the plan will become the state's road map for managing the lake. While the lake's bottom is considered state land, Buehler said managing Utah Lake will be a joint effort, as illustrated by the plan.

"None of us are smarter than all of us," Buehler said, "and none of us can do more than all of us."

The plan states the lake "is a focal point of natural resource systems that contribute to the environmental health, economic prosperity and quality of life of area residents and visitors." It calls for managing it through cooperative efforts for future generations.

The plan is divided into five areas: Land use and shoreline protection, transportation, recreation, natural resources and public facilities. Among the plan's highlights are creating a trail system around the lake, providing boat launches, campsites and interpretive sites for lake visitors, and protecting the lake's ecology.

One aspect of the plan has already started: Bringing the June sucker back from the brink of extinction. The state is engaged in a program to create more habitat in and around the lake for the sucker, while eradicating non-native carp which have overrun the lake.

There is one thing the plan lacks: An enforcement mechanism. While its signatories pledge to support the plan, there is nothing legally binding them to do it.

Billings said the goal was not to compel cities to do anything, but to get voluntary cooperation.

Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson said the plan is enforced more through moral forces rather than legislative mandate.

"There is an expectation that [member cities] will commit to cooperate in the cause," Ellertson said. "If someone disagrees with something, we have a system where they can come back and bring it to the commission to discuss it."

Billings said commission members came to the table at first with different ideas, and while there are still some areas disagreement, there is also consensus.

U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, who attended the signing ceremony at Utah Lake State Park, said it was important to protect Utah Lake as the county's population --and its effect on the environment --grows.

"To have this wonderful resource in Utah's back yard and not move in a logical manner to protect it would be irresponsible," Bennett said.

dmeyers@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">dmeyers@sltrib.com



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