A Military Grade Solution to Cleaning Up Utah Lake

Jul 6, 2012

Utah Lake has a reputation for being a murky, polluted mud-hole. The Utah Lake Commission exists to manage the lake, enhance its value as a resource, and change the lake's murky reputation. It collaborates with multiple state agencies to sustainably develop Utah Lake to its full potential, both as a recreational area and as a natural resource.

The murkiness is due to the carp population of the lake that eats aquatic vegetation. But Utah Lake Commission Head Reed Price says that water quality may not be the chief deterrent keeping people away: "Utah Lake does not have bad water quality when you look at it chemically; it's a clarity issue primarily."

The real problem facing development of Utah Lake is its stark absence of shoreline. Accessible beaches on the lake are rare. But it wasn't always that way. Weed specialist Aaron Eager says, "When you look at aerial photos from 1950, there's open beach all the way around most sections of the lake."

That was before phragmites, an invasive noxious reed showed up. "You watch it in the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s," says Eager,  "And you see the phragmites take over to the point where we don't have any open beaches anymore."

Plans to re-open the shoreline involve fire, poison, and an earth-grinding amphibious minitank called a "Land Tamer". The Land Tamer works 12 months out of the year to smash and grind the reeds down then sprays 100 gallons of pesticide. The tank's tracks are the lake are carefully planned using GIS mapping and aerial photos.

Nowhere the effectiveness of this vehicle more apparent than on a stretch of shoreline on the east side of the lake. Once infested with phragmites, roughly 300 yards of white sand graces the shoreline now, attracting beach-goers to come back after a long hiatus. One woman from Provo said, "I haven't come down to Utah Lake habitually for years but I love the water so I'll probably come more often now that I know about this place."

The plan is to have the entire shore restored within a decade.