Future Utah Lake improvements to enhance community experience

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Editor’s note: This story pairs with another titled “Utah Lake Commission hosts Utah Lake Festival.”

Four of Utah Lake’s 25 access points will be renovated in 2017. (Abby Hay)

Utah Lake is undergoing some major marina improvement projects to improve loading conditions for boaters and to beautify and enhance access points for residents.

The 97,000-acre body of water has 25 access points, four of which will be renovated in 2017.

Utah Lake Commission executive director Eric Ellis said the goal of the commission is to “stimulate . . . interest in developing and improving the access points around the lake.”

Many cities surrounding the lake have plans to transform their marinas to make them more accessible to community residents.

“As a commission, we’re super excited because it means that some of our lake access points are getting much-needed attention and they — in and of themselves — will be an attraction because it won’t just be a boat launch,” Ellis said. “It’ll also be somewhere that people can come and hang out and enjoy the lake just right there in the harbors.”

Utah Lake State Park

Utah Lake State Park will undergo a large dredging project shortly after Labor Day meant to remove all boating hazards and to extend the ramps to the new low lake level, according to Jason Allen, Utah Lake State Park manager.

In order to do this, workers will put in a small dam to drain water out of the marina and dig out about two or three feet, removing debris.

Community residents can enjoy facilities at Utah Lake State Park. (Abby Hay)

The project was originally planned to begin earlier this year, but was postponed because of high water levels in Utah Lake and the spawning season for June sucker fish, Allen said. The change of plans will allow community members to use the Utah Lake State Park access during the summer of 2017.

Utah Lake State Park will be completely closed during a three- or four-month period during winter 2017 while the project is in progress, because about a dozen trucks will enter and exit the park each hour. Allen said the park is expected to open again in April 2018, in time for the summer boating season.

Ellis said the dredging project should have little to no effect on lake levels. The water displacement that may occur in the lake will only be “a drip in the Utah Lake bucket,” Ellis said. The inner and outer harbors at Utah Lake State Park only amount to 45 acres, just a small percentage of the lake.

The entire project will cost about $1.4 million, Allen said.

A dredging project to Utah Lake State Park will begin shortly after Labor Day 2017. (Abby Hay)

All project fees will be paid from a restricted fund through the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands from fees collected from the use of public lands, and will not require the use of any taxpayer money.

Additional improvements to Utah Lake State Park will include a small parking lot expansion, as well as upgrading internet access in the area.

“A lot of different marinas are doing their best to upgrade their facilities and trying to encourage people to come down to the lake,” Allen said.

Pelican Bay Marina, Saratoga Springs

The Pelican Bay access point in Saratoga Springs is undergoing a combination of a marina expansion dredging project and a water development project. A new building is being constructed near the marina to provide a secondary water supply, Ellis said.

The project began near the end of 2016 and is expected to be completed mid June.

The Pelican Bay improvements are funded by a portion of a $500,000 grant administered by Utah Forestry, Fire and State Lands — the same grant that will also aid American Fork in its upcoming marina expansion project.

American Fork Boat Harbor

Changes to the American Fork Boat Harbor include a marina expansion, construction of new restroom facilities, splash pad, connective trails and play areas along the lake beach. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

“As these projects are completed and just get those necessities like a restroom or access to water, a developed parking lot, trails, what have you, people flock to these areas, so there’s a huge demand and that’s what’s driving this” Ellis said.

Sandy Beach, Spanish Fork

Developments to Sandy Beach in Spanish Fork are also underway, Ellis said. The project includes improvements to the road leading to Sandy Beach and the parking lot, which are expected to be completed by the end of summer 2017.

Workers have cleared out much of the heavy underbrush that once made the area very secluded and a target for what Ellis referred to as “transient campsites.” These improvements are part of an effort to make Sandy Beach more of a “family-friendly community venue” and make it easier for law enforcement to see what is going on in the area, Ellis said.

Each of these projects has been in the works for several years, and more work is expected down the road, thanks to the legislature taking recent notice of Utah Lake.

HCR 26 was passed earlier this year, sponsored by Utah Lake Commission governing board members Rep. Mike McKell, R-American Fork, and Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork.

The bill “urges speedy and comprehensive solutions to restore Utah Lake and improve its water quality, emphasizes removing invasive plant species (and) seeks to ensure recreational activities on Utah Lake.”

“With (legislative) support, the lake can really make some advances by leaps and bounds,” Allen said.

Utah County officials continue to spearhead the phragmites removal around the lake. Phragmites is an invasive reed that makes it difficult for lake visitors to get in and out of the lake. The Utah Lake Commission plans to treat nearly 1,000 acres of phragmites in 2017.

Carp removal is still a major issue in Utah Lake. Over the last eight years, 25 million pounds of carp — the equivalent of 100 blue whales — have been removed from the lake, according to Utah Lake Commission’s March newsletter.

Utah Lake

Utah Lake’s water levels will rise a little bit this year compared to past years’ levels, thanks to the large amount of precipitation last winter and this spring’s runoff from various tributaries to the lake.

Utah Lake is currently 57 percent full, which is up from below 50 percent in February, according to the Central Utah Water Conservancy District website. Last fall, the lake was nearly eight feet below full, Ellis said.

“Even though the lake is filling quickly, there is a whole lot more buffer on storage capacity,” Ellis said.

Provo Division Director for Public Services Greg Beckstrom said there is a very low risk of Utah Lake flooding this summer, even with increasing water levels.

The decreased flooding probability is largely caused by the low lake levels of the past few years, Beckstrom said. Utah Lake is still at around 4.3 feet below its depth to compromise, meaning water levels will have to rise by more than four feet to reach legally-defined lake capacity.

If the lake does reach its capacity of 4,489 feet in elevation, water will be pumped out of the lake to protect surrounding areas from flooding.

Beckstrom said many improvements have been made since the 1980s to ensure flooding is not as great of a risk. These improvements include widening the Jordan River to increase its capacity to drain water out of Utah Lake, constructing Jordanelle Reservoir in the 1990s to create more storage capacity, enlarging the basins of nearby canyons and improving river maintenance.

“There’s still a lot of spring weather to come in terms of temperatures and precipitation, so we’re certainly not out of . . . danger in terms of potential runoff,” Beckstrom said. “But the weather we’ve experienced the last couple of weeks and the weather forecast for the next weeks are certainly encouraging.”

This map shows a satellite image of Utah Lake and its surrounding areas. Four of the lake’s access points are featured on the map with brief descriptions of current improvement projects to those areas. (Abby Hay)

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