Ew, gross: Is Utah Lake polluted?
Utah Lake is green some of the time. Murky all of the time. Consequently, residents often wonder: Is Utah Lake polluted?
The short answer: Yes and no.
“There was definitely a time when Utah Lake was what I would call polluted,” says Mike Mills of the Central Utah Water Conservancy. “After the great depression and up until the late ’60s, several cities around the lake were discharging raw sewage directly into the lake, and there were signs posted stating that the water wasn’t safe for swimming.”
In that sense, “yes,” Utah Lake was polluted. But it hasn’t been since the Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972, after which the water was deemed safe for swimming and recreation again.
Still, it takes time for wounds to heal. In this case, Utah Lake’s past image. “That history probably contributes to the reputation that Utah Lake is still polluted,” says Mills.
But even though the lake has for a long time been safe for people, plants, and species to play and live, there are a few areas in which the lake could improve. For one thing, Utah Lake has a high level of phosphorous, which can cause algae blooms that are “unsightly, odorous, and deplete oxygen levels in the water,” says Mills.
Not a big deal, he says, but it’s not ideal either, especially from an aesthetic perspective.
Secondly, Utah Lake is slightly more salty than it should be. Not enough to impact fish and wildlife levels, but it “isn’t the best for irrigating fruit trees and other crops,” says Mills.
Lastly, non-native carp compound the above two problems, making the water even murkier than it would otherwise be. For this reason, wildlife officials have enacted a carp removal program to enhance both the appearance and welfare of the lake by as early as 2017.
“Much progress has already been made and things are definitely better,” says Mills. “We still have some work to do to get ahead of the phosphorous and (salt) problems, but the lake is still a great place to recreate.”
Unfortunately for Utah Lake, sometimes it’s unfairly compared to high mountain or otherwise isolated lakes, which are known for their hyper blue-clear water.
“Reservoirs like Strawberry, Jordanelle, and Deer Creek kind of become the standard for locals to compare Utah Lake too,” says Mills. “If Utah Lake were located in Kansas or another state that didn’t have those higher elevation reservoirs, its reputation would probably be much better.”