Ew, gross: Is Utah Lake polluted?

Utah Lake is green some of the time. Murky all of the time. Consequently, residents often wonder: Is Utah Lake polluted?

The short answer: Yes and no.

“There was definitely a time when Utah Lake was what I would call polluted,” says Mike Mills of the Central Utah Water Conservancy. “After the great depression and up until the late ’60s, several cities around the lake were discharging raw sewage directly into the lake, and there were signs posted stating that the water wasn’t safe for swimming.”

In that sense, “yes,” Utah Lake was polluted. But it hasn’t been since the Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972, after which the water was deemed safe for swimming and recreation again.

Still, it takes time for wounds to heal. In this case, Utah Lake’s past image. “That history probably contributes to the reputation that Utah Lake is still polluted,” says Mills.

Shallow depths, high phosphorous levels, and non-native carp (not pollution) all contribute to Utah Lake’s sometimes green appearance in direct sunlight.

But even though the lake has for a long time been safe for people, plants, and species to play and live, there are a few areas in which the lake could improve. For one thing, Utah Lake has a high level of phosphorous, which can cause algae blooms that are “unsightly, odorous, and deplete oxygen levels in the water,” says Mills.

Not a big deal, he says, but it’s not ideal either, especially from an aesthetic perspective.

Secondly, Utah Lake is slightly more salty than it should be. Not enough to impact fish and wildlife levels, but it “isn’t the best for irrigating fruit trees and other crops,” says Mills.

Lastly, non-native carp compound the above two problems, making the water even murkier than it would otherwise be. For this reason, wildlife officials have enacted a carp removal program to enhance both the appearance and welfare of the lake by as early as 2017.

“Much progress has already been made and things are definitely better,” says Mills. “We still have some work to do to get ahead of the phosphorous and (salt) problems, but the lake is still a great place to recreate.”

Unfortunately for Utah Lake, sometimes it’s unfairly compared to high mountain or otherwise isolated lakes, which are known for their hyper blue-clear water.

“Reservoirs like Strawberry, Jordanelle, and Deer Creek kind of become the standard for locals to compare Utah Lake too,” says Mills. “If Utah Lake were located in Kansas or another state that didn’t have those higher elevation reservoirs, its reputation would probably be much better.”

See also: Here’s how Utah Lake could have clear water by 2017


  1. I’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on Utah Lake, boating, fishing and hunting. It has become a legacy in my life and my family’s lives. Our memories of times spent on that beautiful body of water are like gold to us. We love the lake and all it has to offer and I applaud the efforts that have been made by the state to restore the lake. Utah Lake is a valuable resource only understood by those who have spent a life time of activity on or near it. Its beauty and worth is undervalued. It has been my secret laughing place for many, many years, and I selfishly hate to see its popularity grow by the efforts to inform the public and restore it as nearly as possible to its early days. But for the sake of the lake I am willing and excited to share it with those who have here to for held distain for it. I hope that the goal can be reached to bring it to the status of a Blue Ribbon Fishery and I applaud and am excited for that effort!
    The labors and determination by all of the entities involved to bring her back to what she once was is well worth the time and money spent. Keep going! And thank you!
    Ron Durrant

  2. I would like to boat the lake but always hit bottom and damage my prop. Maybe markers just out side Provo could help. And other shallow could help. Thanks for the dredge work out of Provo harbor.

    • Verdean,

      Thanks for commenting! Due to the shallow nature of Utah Lake, since it is 9-10 feet deep on average on a good water year, it is difficult to mark areas that might be hazardous. Our recommendation would be to check with the staff of whichever marina you visit and inquire as to their recommendations for boating safely. Enjoy your time on the lake!