UTAH (ABC4) – The Great Salt Lake’s ecosystem supports 75 percent of all wetlands in Utah.  The Nature Conservancy is working on a project to create 40 acres of new wetlands just outside of Layton. The new wetlands will serve to create habitat for migratory birds, manage runoff rainwater, and improve the quality of the water that makes it to Great Salt Lake.  

The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve sits along the east side of the Great Salt Lake. Just west of the shoreline is Antelope Island State Park. The preserve is managed by The Nature Conservancy and spans more than 4,400 acres.  

The preserve has been around for 15 years and is getting an upgrade.   

“Even though it might just be a cup of water to the big picture, at least we have that cup of water to add back to the system and let it go back to the Great Salt Lake and try to maintain a health system or add to it,” Chris Brown told ABC4. Brown is the director of stewardship for The Nature Conservancy.   

He explained that rainwater runoff from areas in Layton, like the Freeport Center, is directed to the preserve. All rain is welcome, especially during a drought. However, as the runoff races through ditches, canals, and streets, it picks up unwanted garbage.   

“There’s a lot of trash and debris and stuff,” Brown stated. “Well, all that stuff goes to the Great Salt Lake and gets deposited out there and will stay there for eons of time.” Along with trash, the water carries silt (which overwhelms the wetlands it drains into) and pollutants.  

The solution? There may not be just one, but the preserve will soon be home to 40 acres of man-made wetlands which will collect all that dirty water.   

“The main levy that we’re standing on here is about 4,300 feet long and the other one is about 600 feet long,” W. Chris Christiansen said while standing on a large dirt levy at the project site. Christiansen is the project engineer (from Equinox Engineering). Before the water makes it to the levy he was standing on, it will have to go through a filtration system that will collect large debris and garbage.   

“I’ve seen it myself with birds that have plastic stuck around their heads or in their feet,” Brown added referring to the trash that often makes it to existing wetlands which provide crucial habitat for millions of migratory birds in the spring and fall. He continued, “And so, hopefully we can reduce some of that happening.”  

The area will serve as a habitat for hundreds of species of migratory birds. While the man-made wetlands will rely on rain, strategic water management will ensure that water is in the wetlands even if naturally occurring wetlands in the area have dried out.  

 The new wetlands will provide refuge for birds, but it will serve another purpose as well. They will clean the water a second time before any of the water is released into the lake.  

“The wetlands plants will naturally clean it up and remove some of the heavy metals and things like that,” Brown stated. Researchers from multiple Utah universities have found elevated levels of heavy metals and toxic substances in the exposed lakebed at GSL. Having this new system in place will help prevent some additional pollution from making its way to the lake, adding to the problem.  

“If it wasn’t for the nature conservancy and the things that they’re doing, a lot of these projects would not get done,” Christiansen stated.  

The 40 acres are part of the preserve and were set aside for this project years ago. Construction of the new wetlands is expected to be finished by November and will cost around $300,000. The Nature Conservancy fundraised to cover the cost. The preserve is open to the public. However, the new wetlands are not located in the public area of the preserve.