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Great Salt Lake wetlands, including Ogden Bay WMA, to share grant funds

By Tim Vandenack - | Nov 12, 2023

Rob Nielsen, Standard-Examiner

The entry to the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area in western Weber County, photographed June 26, 2023.

Editor’s note: This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.

SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to protecting the Great Salt Lake from drying up, safeguarding the wetlands abutting it can be just as important in efforts to preserve it.

“Much of the freshwater that flows in the Great Salt Lake flows through these wetlands,” said Marchelle Shoop, executive director of the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust.

Accordingly, the trust has announced funding of eight projects aimed at safeguarding some of those marshes and wetlands. The grant money totals $8.53 million, to be matched by $6.54 million more from recipient agencies, and a Weber County project is getting the largest single chunk of grant funds.

The Weber River supplies around 13.3% of the water entering the Great Salt Lake each year, and the $2.38 million grant benefiting Weber County will pay for improvements in the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area. That’s on the county’s western edge. Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit wetlands conservation group, will lead the effort, focused on improving water flow through the area toward the Great Salt Lake.

“Around the lake, we have hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands that are really part of an interconnected ecosystem with the lake,” Shoop told the Standard-Examiner. “So keeping those wetlands healthy and functioning is an important way to help (the) Great Salt Lake function the way it should. Really, they’re part of the thing; they’re not distinct.”

The improvements also stand to benefit the migratory birds and other wildlife that travel through the wetlands areas.

Additional funding will go to projects in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Box Elder County, the Farmington Bay WMA in Davis County and the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve near Layton, among others. The biggest project in money terms will be wetlands protection efforts on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake County, to cost $6.68 million and recipient of $2.23 million in grant money.

The funds for the wetlands projects come from $40 million provided by the state to the trust to aid in efforts to protect the Great Salt Lake, which dipped to its lowest recorded level ever in 2021. The trust is led by the National Audubon Society’s Saline Lakes Program and The Nature Conservancy.

The Weber County project, though getting the biggest chunk of grant money at $2.38 million, has a total cost of $2.97 million including matching funding. That makes it the second costliest project of the eight getting grant funds after the south shore project in Salt Lake County.

The Weber County project calls for repairs to an aging levee along the south run of the Weber River in the Ogden Bay WMA and improvements to a wetland area that sustained severe damage in flooding in the 1980s. The improvements will allow wetlands managers to better control water flow, improving the habitat for wildlife and reducing water loss caused by invasive species, evaporation and transpiration.

The Weber County project “will directly benefit 2,255 acres of emergent wetlands and improve conveyance efficiency from the Weber River to Ogden Bay of Great Salt Lake. It will also provide monitoring to better assess water delivery to Great Salt Lake from the Weber River,” reads an explanation of the plans on the trust website.

Pinpointing the potential increase in water flow to the Great Salt Lake thanks to the planned projects, expected to start in 2024, is fraught with difficulty. The upshot of the projects is “probably more nuanced than that,” Shoop said.

Broadly, though, improvements to the wetlands areas will potentially augment the ability to manage flows in some cases, notably when there’s flooding, so water can be better directed to the Great Salt Lake, she said.

Some of the projects also call for changes that will improve efforts to control Phragmites, an aggressive wetland grass that can hamper water flow. Phragmites also consume a lot of water, Shoop said.

According to Great Salt Lake Advisory Council figures supplied by Shoop, the biggest single source of water entering the Great Salt Lake comes from precipitation, falling rain and snow, 36.5% of the total. Another 32.6% comes from the Bear River, 15.7% comes from the Jordan River, 13.3% comes from the Weber River and 1.9% comes from the West Desert area.


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