SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust announced this week more than $8.5 million in grants to fund various projects aimed at bolstering the lake’s surrounding wetland ecosystem, which provides crucial habitat for migrating birds and recreation for Utahns.

The Utah State Legislature approved the creation of the watershed trust last year. On Tuesday, the trust awarded $8,525,343 in funding over the next two years to eight projects. The money will go toward the creation of new dams and canals, work to restore marshlands, and efforts to monitor water flows into the Great Salt Lake from crucial wetlands.

“The wetlands themselves and the lake are part of an intertwined ecosystem,” said Marcelle Shoop, the executive director of the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust. “They function together.”

Shoop, who is also the saline lakes program director for the National Audubon Society, noted that although last year’s heavy rains and snow brought a much-needed influx of water to the lake, it doesn’t change the fact that the outlook for Great Salt Lake and its surrounding ecosystem remains dire.

What’s at stake, she said, is the crucial habitat the lake’s 13,000 acres of wetlands provides for millions of migratory birds, as well as the recreational opportunities the area affords to the public.

A Pelican floats on Farmington Bay near the Great Salt Lake. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
A Pelican floats on Farmington Bay near the Great Salt Lake. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The nearly $9 million in funding awarded this week went to government agencies, such as Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources, and nonprofit groups, like Ducks Unlimited, which works to preserve wetlands and other areas associated with waterfowl.

These watershed trust partners, of which there are five, agreed to contribute an additional $6.5 million to the conservation effort.

Adam Wickline, senior project manager with Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust, said that improving the wetlands around Great Salt Lake will also benefit the surrounding communities. One such perk of restored wetlands is better water quality, officials say.

“I think at the end of this funding amount, we’re going to be able to show acres of improved habitat and wildlife that have benefited from it, and an overall increase in the health of the system,” Wickline said.

These projects are expected to get underway next year. Additionally, the trust still has $1.5 million left to spend on wetland improvement projects. Officials say decisions on the remaining grants will be made in the coming months.

More information on each wetland project proposal can be found here.