SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — While the Great Salt Lake is up nearly five feet from the historic lows it reached last year, innovative projects are underway to save the lake. The latest to be completed is The Freeport Drain Wetlands.
“We took an area, we thought: ‘Here’s a good spot to create a new wetland. Let’s build this up and create the infrastructure to create a wetland and try to offset some of those losses on the lake,’” Chris Brown told ABC4. Brown is the director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy. He’s been leading the Freeport project.
In a statement, Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative explained the project’s objective: “This project will complete the Engineering required to create 40 acres of new emergent marsh and open water habitats and maintain and restore natural wetlands that are historically associated with the Great Salt Lake freshwater zones on State of Utah Sovereign Lands. Water Quality Monitoring will be provided before and after data to achieve the best picture of how the completed project has effective water quality entering the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.”
The Freeport Drain Wetlands are the latest addition to thousands of acres of wetlands under The Nature Conservancy’s stewardship. These wetlands create a buffer between human development east of the lake and the lake’s shores.
“It was really hard to let go of that property because it was our playground, it was where we grew up. My dad was a cattle rancher,” Layton Mayor Joy Petro told ABC4 at the ribbon cutting for the new wetlands. Her family was one of many that gave up farmland for preservation in Davis County. While it was a hard decision to make, she said it was worth it. “I mean this is preservation,” she said while motioning to the wetlands. “This is about educating our youth and helping them really understand to be good stewards of the property, of the land.”
Being a good shepherd means taking care of wildlife — especially the thousands of bird species that travel through Utah, stopping at Great Salt Lake, while migrating along the 8,000-mile Pacific Flyway. “Birds have actually already migrated through and settled where they’d like to raise their young, which includes the Shoreline Preserve,” Sageland Collaborative Ecologist Janice Gardner stated. She has helped The Nature Conservancy with monitoring the birds that have already decided to call the new wetlands home for the season. With the lake’s waterline miles away from the historic wetlands, according to Gardner, these preserves are more important than ever.
While the Freeport Drain Wetlands are already hosting a slew of animals, one of its most important jobs is to collect stormwater that is washed down from the Freeport Center. “We’re collecting the trash that’s going to come down out of the river,” Brown stated. “We’ll be able to remove that out of the drain, and then the wetlands are great at cleaning contaminants and things out of the water.” Brown explained that the plants in the wetlands help filter out sediment and other contaminants that would otherwise travel to the lake.
Former U.S. Representative Karen Shepherd also toured the new wetlands. She applauded the project as well as recent water laws passed by Utah lawmakers. “It’s rather earth-shaking because it’s hard to pass water law,” Shepherd stated. As a birder herself, she told ABC4 that the preserve is something that she believes will bless Utahns for generations. Nonetheless, she said the whole country needs the lake to survive and thrive and hopes the state will reject the idea of damming Bear River. She added, “And, they need to look very hard at how we charge for water.”
According to Brown, even on the driest, hottest days of summer, around two cubic feet per second of water is expected to enter the Freeport Wetlands area. During a summer rainstorm, that could increase to a few hundred cubic feet per second of water.