Please Help Save Utah Lake

“Look to the winged ones who soar on the wind. If we endanger these ecosystems, how will we consider the winged ones?” Matt 6:26). As the First Nation translation of the New Testament invokes, our economic interests are transcended by what nature can teach us.

Lake Restoration Solutions has filed a defamation suit against Brigham Young University scientist Ben Abbott for his scientific perspective on their project to create islands in Utah Lake so that an ill-advised real estate development can proceed. Ben is one of the finest scientists I know. As a fellow ecologist, I can state unequivocally that his science is solid.

Consider another angle on this attempt to co-opt a resource that all citizens of Utah may currently enjoy: the beauty and wonder that Utah Lake offers.

When my daughter was 11, we hiked to the top of Baldy, a hill that overlooks Utah Valley between Battle Creek Canyon and Dry Creek. Utah Lake was a gorgeous sight stretching from one end of the valley to the other. The blue waters sparkled in the afternoon sun. It built a precious memory we still talk about. Such landscapes have value in and of themselves. Utah Lake’s presence as a landscape feature adds grace and grandeur and character to our valley home. 

The proposal to encroach on this stunning jewel of a lake by building islands with their attending roads and infrastructure on which to develop more real estate is a travesty of the aesthetic values that define the landscapes for which Utah is known. Who benefits from such development? Who loses? My own view of the lake from home in Pleasant Grove will be marred by this development. Many of those who now live along its shores and benches will fare similarly. Everyone who resides in and visits Utah Valley, who climbs its flanking mountains, will experience the loss.

Take a moment to look at the view of Utah Lake from Mt. Timpanogos or any of Utah’s benches. These islands will mar the value of the vista. Poison the landscape with more visual noise. Those who enjoy a view of the lake from our homes will have that view twisted away into the gaze of another human-made travesty of misdirection from the natural wonders that seeing nature up close affords. The Lake’s fragile ecosystem will be endangered, including the birds that travel up the Pacific bird migration flyway, that sing and nest in vegetation, and even the frogs and fishes that live there will have their lives encroached on. So much loss for so little gain.

Children—no, all of us—need places of repose. We need areas to consider the most profound connections to a world beyond ourselves and our concerns. The natural beauty of Utah Lake sits in the center of our gorgeous valley. It is the Valley’s most striking feature. I can conceive of no human-made artifice that could approach the beauty we now enjoy. 

In Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, he ends the book with, “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.” As it did with my daughter and I climbing Baldy and looking together at the lake.

Do we need to develop human-constructed islands on one of the great natural and historical wonders found in Utah and risk such a fantastic natural resource of beauty for our own and future generations? This “restoration” project—this unprecedented “experiment”—cannot be undone. Why not instead preserve the lake as a monument to the grace and beauty of the place we live, rather than turn it into one more opportunity to make a few of us wealthier, while the aesthetic beauty of the lake and its wonderful ecology and nature are compromised for tens of thousands who want to live in a place that pleases the eye and gladdens the heart?

Steven L. Peck is an Associate Professor in the Biology Department of Brigham Young University and novelist, including the award-winning Utah-based dystopia, King Leere: Goatherd of the La Sals, that depicts how unrestrained greed ruins families and landscapes. 

Comments

  1. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Great thoughts, Steve. Is it possible to link to Ben Abbott’s work so we can read his scientific perspective? (I’m confident, on it’s face, that it’s solid – would just be interesting to look at the details).

  2. Coincidentally I just started reading your book on this theme. Thanks Steve for bringing this to our attention. This development proposal seems like all kinds of wrong, and then to sue the scientist for what, doing science? Count me in on getting involved in anything that can be done to stop this.

  3. Scott Abbott says:

    Mr. Turtle, here’s a link to the latest by Ben and others:
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358358170_Utah_Lake_An_Ecosystem_in_Recovery

  4. Scott Abbott says:

    Steve…you make an argument here not being made with enough emphasis by others: beauty. That simple argument should be enough. All by itself. Thank you for the reminder

  5. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Thanks for the link!

  6. Allan Garber says:

    The love of money is the root of all evil. The Developers need to think about that. Thank you Mr. Peck for your courage.

  7. I’m sure there are a lot of good reasons not to go forward with this project, but that it would mar the beauty of the lake isn’t very compelling to me. You can make the same argument for any development on any piece of real estate. Anything you do mars the natural beauty whatever land (or water) you’re building on. And as far as lakes go, Utah Lake isn’t amazing to begin with.

  8. I just got back from a rally on the steps of the capitol building in Salt Lake on this very topic. There were more than 560 of us there, including a leader of the Timpanogos tribe, who spoke about a longer history with the lake than many local residents have. Professor Abbot spoke as well, flanked by several other scientists whose research stands against the proposed construction project. It was heartening to hear. I found all the speakers inspiring, but I was already convinced. What will it take to convince enough others?

    I invite you to go to dontpaveutahlake.org to get more information, and to sign the petition. If you don’t find the appeal to preserving the aesthetic value of the lake to be a compelling argument, there are many other reasons that this project is the wrong course forward, some of which you’ll find at that website. George Handley’s piece in the Deseret News is extremely well argued: https://www.deseret.com/opinion/2022/2/6/22918309/utah-lake-algae-bloom-manmade-islands-june-sucker-byu-professor

    Here’s my own reasoning on why this project needs to be stopped: If this development goes forward, the changes made will be irreversible in a human lifetime. When such is the case, I would want to make sure that the science is rock solid and the community supports it. Neither of those is true here. Furthermore, the group that stands to make staggering amounts of money on the project does not have a plan in place for addressing the devastation to wildlife, according to their proposal, and their response to the concerns of a qualified scientist is to sue him for millions.

    Taken together, the irreversiblity, the opposition by many scientists, the community opposition against it, and the bad behavior and heavy profit motive of the developers, all say to me that it’s worth my time to fight against the project. I can’t see Utah Lake from my house. But I can easily see that devastating the natural habitat of the lake and attempting to house hundreds of thousands of people there is the wrong way to go.

  9. patriciakaramesines says:

    I remember back in the late 70s, very early 80s, the beauty of Utah Valley pre-real-estate boom. KSL commonly included visibility quality in those days: 20, 30, 40 or more miles.

    Back then, I used to walk through the orchards and pastures to get to the foothills and climb up into the mountains. The lake was a wonder in the splendor of the long view.

    Then the orchards and pastures became heavily colonized. We lost all those spring blossoms, bend-branch fruits, and grasses that hid pheasants. My typical routes became less engaging.

    In the mid-80s, I began riding my bicycle out to the lake with my dog; later driving my car while the dog ran alongside. While the mountains have their qualities of light and shadow, a certain tone to wind winding through the trees, the lake presents a sensory environment all its own. Utah Lake became my go-to refuge for years. It’s where I discovered a color of blue new to me in the ice that piled up along the shores in the winter. The lines and fractures in its frozen surface were spectacles of geometry. It’s where I saw my first water spout, roping lake and sky together. Light and water have a dashing relationship; being a light freak, I loved the play of sunlight on waves and the illusions of shine common on surfaces of large bodies of water. I have a clear memory of my then husband to be lying on the shore while a skunk foraging along the shoreline shuffled towards him. While I scrambled up the bank to avoid the skunk, my husband remained lying the still, and the skunk skittered around him. Spawning carp. Ospreys live out there, weasels, I’ve seen eagles out on the ice. Snakes. Toads. Owls. Pelicans. Grebes. Coots. Different kinds of ducks. Seagulls. It’s a habitat, a rare one in a desert, and a reflection of the paleolake that once filled the valley.

    I think it’s a pretty awesome water body. It would be delightful if much more of it than already is were to be designated a park or other protected area rather than a novelty project bent on resurfacing it.

  10. I loved Utah Valley years ago while attending BYU. Used to go on drives through the valley just to enjoy the scenery. Geneva Steel was the sole problem then and we cheered when it closed.

    I absolutely despise driving through portions of Utah Valley today. Orchards replaced by strip malls, traffic, pollution, urban blight and overcrowding, all the products of unchecked materialism. Subdivisions encroach on the foothills ever higher. The valley of my youth is a sickly shadow of what it was. Developers will suck the last bit of natural beauty out of the area.

  11. My wife’s aunt and uncle moved to a house south of Saratoga Springs, directly west of Orem, on the rumor that someone was building a bridge across Utah lake, in the hopes that they could buy the land cheap, and then it would rise in price as the bridge would create a quick drive to Provo.

  12. patriciakaramesines that description of Utah Lake was so beautifully and meaningly spoken. I so appreciate the beauty of your words and the power of an ecologically informed look at what a wondrous place the lake is for those who enjoy Nature. I think those who appreciate the value of places like Utah Lake speak to why they matter.

    Lori Forsyth thank you for your activity in the fight against destroying our natural places and for sharing George Handley’s op ed. It is an important work that needs more attention.

    So many forces try to push Nature away in the name of profit. I honestly believe our Latter-day Saint theology demands of us more care these places. I see in our other sacred places like the temple, where we gather to be instructed, on the power and beauty of creation and warnings against what money, and what can be done with it, than we take to heart when we sacrifice places like Utah Lake and our children’s future enjoyment to the Moloch of greed.

  13. Geoff - Aus says:

    Next time someone talks about small government this is what it looks like.

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