By LAURA PERRETT
Utah Lake has been a resource to people for thousands of years, yet has suffered permanent alterations, said Joel C. Janetski, associate professor of anthropology.
He discusses his views in “Utah Lake: Its Role in the Prehistory of Utah Valley,” in Utah Historical Quarterly, volume 58.
Utah Lake’s native fish, native vegetation, turbidity and composition were affected by early settlers.
“By 1900, only 50 years after the first Mormon settlers moved into the valley, the native fishery was doomed because of over-exploitation and ill-advised management.”
Eleven of the 12 fish species native to Utah Lake are now rare or extinct, although the lake supports large populations of exotic fish introduced earlier, Janetski said.
Settlers also affected native vegetation by introducing exotic fish and plants, Janetski said.
An example of altered vegetation is the pondweed that used to cover the lake’s bottom. “Prior to the introduction of the German carp in the 1880s, pondweed and other forms of vegetation grew thickly in the sheltered coves and bays.(Pondweed) played a critical role in the lake’s ecology as beds held the bottom of the lake firm.”
The pondweed kept sediment from stirring up and allowed sunlight to reach other vegetation, Janetski said.
Larry Mullins, Utah Lake park manager, said people say the lake was clearer when the pioneers arrived because there was plant life on the bottom of the lake.
The lake had too many carp before anyone realized they were eating the vegetation. “Now when the wind blows, the silt gets stirred up,” Mullins said.
Mullins said the lake was again affected in the 1930s when numerous communities used the lake as a sewage plant.
“Prior to sewage systems that we have today, raw sewage did dump into the lake,” said Dwight Hill, Provo’s director of environmental health.
Mullins said “It was a dirty lake … until a major community and state clean-up effort (began).” By the mid-1950s, all sewage was going into sewage plants, Mullins said.
Janetski said the lake is still incredibly vibrant and alive, despite the abuses it has sustained. If we continue to be wiser stewards, it will continue to be productive for years to come, he said.