BYU and UVU collaborate on first Utah Lake symposium

The first Utah Lake Symposium was a huge success, with 245 in-person attendees and 230 online participants tuning in to the two live-streams. Photo by Tyler Hacking.

This article was co-authored by Ivette Pimentel and Kate Hickman.

The Utah Lake Symposium was a free, public event made possible through the collaboration of several organizations, including Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University.  It took place at UVU on Aug. 4, and consisted of both live and virtual sessions. This event brought together top ecological, legal, and management experts to discuss the status and future of Utah Lake. 

To watch the recorded presentations visit the Recorded Sessions page on the Utah Lake Symposium’s website.

Chief Executive Mary Murdock Meyer of the Timpanogos Nation participated in the symposium by giving a presentation about the history of her tribe and the lake. She was also part of a panel that included speakers, legislators and community members. Meyer said the lake was, “A place of peace and beauty,” and she wants the community to think about the future of the lake. 

For more information about the Timpanogos Tribe visit the Timpanogos Nation’s website. 

Panelists at the Utah Lake Symposium. Photo by Ivette Pimentel.

During the panel, community members expressed concern about the future of Utah Lake in response to a proposal currently being reviewed by state lawmakers. This proposal would entail creating islands in the lake for various purposes geared toward restoration. Thus, the project has been named the “Utah Lake Restoration Project.”

“It broke my heart to find out about the private island,” said Meyer during her presentation. Expressing concern for the lake, Meyer said, “The island will ruin the lake.” When asked how indigenous groups are being involved in the decision-making process concerning the islands, she said, “This is our first step at being involved in this. I think there should be more involvement.”

Ben Abbott, a professor of aquatic ecology at BYU, gave a presentation about the current status of Utah Lake, and threats that it faces. When asked whether island development would pose a threat to water quality, Abbott said, “I see almost no scenario where it wouldn’t worsen … the poor water quality.”

Abbott mentions that when developing the lake the community needs to understand the “cultural and spiritual importance,” of the lake. The greatest threats to the lake today include toxic algal blooms, low water levels and climate change. 

In 2020 UVU was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research the impact of Utah Lake. Several of the students involved in the research presented their findings at the symposium. To learn more about the NSF grant, see this article.

Biochemistry student Tyler Hacking discussing his poster at the Utah Lake Symposium. Photo by Ivette Pimentel.

Jacob Holdaway, a sixth generation farmer along the shore of Utah Lake, spoke about his work on the Walkara Way Project. His project prioritizes cooperation and goodwill in working with private citizens and government agencies to tackle challenges facing the community. 

When asked about his plans to ensure that Native Americans are involved in the project, Holdaway said, “They are underrepresented and we need to seek them out, we are a part of the solution.” 

During Abbott’s presentation he addressed common misperceptions that people have of the lake and “dumb development,” which he explained as projects that don’t prioritize the long-term health of the ecosystem. These misunderstandings could put the lake in danger by allowing “dangerous proposals.” 

Instead, Abbott believes that we should take action: propose “smart development” plans, return water to the lake, reduce wastewater treatment pollution, remove invasive species, protect the lake and take climate change seriously. With all these changes in mind, he reminded the audience that “We’re used to short-term changes, but these ecosystems take decades.”

“The public is becoming more aware of the lake, but they aren’t visiting,” said Abbott at the end of his presentation. He noted that the symposium is an important way to educate the public about the lake and encourage more people to care about it. He finished by saying, “[Utah Lake] is the heart of our community … The choice is ours.”

*Ivette Pimentel and Kate Hickman are both involved in research surrounding the Utah Lake ecosystem.

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