I’ve written at least half a dozen posts about Utah Lake that I’ve never published. I’m just not sure how to approach the topic. I’d love to discuss how to better utilize the lake as an economic and cultural asset in Provo.
But instead, I often find people want to debate if the lake is an asset at all, or rather a liability.
Case in point: KSL recently reported on Utah Lake, pointing out that it can be a fabulous place. Though I find the writing style of the article supremely annoying, I actually agree with the author that the lake is “beautiful” in its own way. But the article also is ultimately trying to disabuse people of the idea that Utah Lake is a filthy cesspool — an idea held by many of the commentors on the article as well as my personal acquaintances.
So why was it necessary to make that point? Why do people continue to have a strong negative reaction to Utah Lake, years after it has been cleaned up and generations after the worst pollution occurred? Do city leaders realize what a waste it is for the community to undervalue a body of water?
A big part of the lake’s reputation is based on the past, which did indeed include a lot of abuse. Somehow, that abuse has become a part of the public narrative surrounding Utah Lake, even though it ceased long ago. Actively working to counter that perception — or, basically, running a positive PR campaign for the lake — might help change that narrative and in turn generate revenue for lake-fronting cities.
But the problem may run deeper and even well-intentioned people or organizations can perpetuate the negative image. For example, Utah lake is commonly discussed in terms of its carp “problem.” The story usually includes a description of carp as “bottom feeding” “trash fish” that churn up muck and are good for nothing but being ground into fertilizer.
That sentence doesn’t exactly make the lake seem enticing; who wants to swim or water ski in muck and trash? And though some of those descriptions may be true, it’s also true that carp are merely fish — and edible at that — and part of an ecosystem that may need work but is nevertheless perfectly safe and enjoyable for people. Or, said another way, carp are not a hazard to humans.
My point here isn’t to catalogue all the ways Utah Lake’s reputation is harmed by public discourse, but merely to show that the way we talk about the lake may be scaring people away instead of inviting them in. That happens with discussions about the carp, about past sewage dumping — which also happened at many other lakes as well as some beaches that people nevertheless frequent — and about other things.
In any case, there are obviously a lot of reasons that Utah Lake has a less than stellar reputation, but whatever the causes, that reputation costs Provo and surrounding communities money as locals and tourists stay away.