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Jonathan B. Benson: The question is, ‘Who will pay for Utah Lake to be restored?’

Reclaiming the lake would cost far more than taxpayers should be expected to pay.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Lake on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

Utah Lake is in drastic need of recovery. Signs on Utah Lake warning about the threats of harmful algal blooms and water borne toxins send these messages: Do not swim or water ski in this area! Do not ingest water! Keep animals away! Call Utah Poison Control if you think you or your pet have been exposed to a harmful algal bloom!

It’s obvious that Utah Lake needs to be improved. Sadly, Utah Lake’s water quality challenges are predominantly man-made.

“The lake is the receiving body for wastewater treatment plant effluent, industrial discharges, stormwater discharges, and nonpoint source runoff,” explains the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

For 150 years, these nutrient contaminants have accumulated in the sediments of Utah Lake and are a major source of water quality degradation.

The challenges threatening Utah Lake extend beyond water quality. High evaporation, invasive fish and plant species, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, significant turbidity and loss of critical components of the lake’s food web all mean the water, ecosystem and long-term viability of Utah Lake remain seriously threatened.

The question is who will pay for Utah Lake’s restoration. Estimates for recovery are in the billions of dollars. State leaders explored whether Utah County taxpayers could afford the billions of dollars or whether a public/private partnership would be more viable.

A taxpayer-funded model would mean each Utah County household would face a tax bill of up to $40,000. A tax increase of that magnitude is not realistic. After studying the facts, state leaders chose to pursue a more fiscally responsible option.

The Utah Lake Restoration Act (HB272, signed into law in 2018) is the fiscally responsible model that our forward-thinking state leaders established. Through this, comprehensive restoration of Utah Lake is possible by partnering with a private group to fund the restoration activities.

Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS) is a conservation-minded social enterprise established to restore and enhance Utah Lake. Through its Utah Lake Restoration Project proposal, LRS is putting its time, money and efforts toward having a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

Some have characterized the Utah Lake Restoration Project as no more than a dredging project or suggest that its proponents are simply developers desiring to profit from real estate. That is false.

The project’s planning was developed by a team of scientists, engineers, researchers and Ph.D.s with decades of experience in restoring lakes and waterways from nutrient pollution and environmental contamination. As a social enterprise, maximizing benefits to the environment and the public trust values of Utahns are the primary motivators.

The LRS team of world-class experts has worked extensively on science-driven solutions to address Utah Lake’s needs. With secured commitments for the $6.5 billion needed to pay for conservation solutions, they have invested millions of dollars into studies, research, engineering and modeling informing the science-based solutions to restore Utah Lake — all without increasing taxes on Utahns.

The Utah Lake Restoration Project means a brighter Utah Lake future with incredible boating, camping, trails, and other recreation, improved public access, thriving wildlife, and clean and healthy water. Reduced evaporation means billions upon billions of gallons of conserved freshwater that we desperately need in Utah, the second driest state in the country.

We strongly encourage all Utahns to support the Utah Lake Restoration Project and the planning, implementation, and conservation investments being undertaken to restore Utah Lake. The time to act is now.

Jonathan B. Benson

Jonathan Benson, Alpine, is the president and chief operating officer at Lake Restoration Solutions.

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