Hot weather has brought the worst out in Liberty Lake: algae.
Light green algae cover much of the surface of the man-made Liberty Park lake, making the water look almost solid in places. Ducks plow through the stuff like ships churning through ice flows.What few stretches of clear water remain reveal the shallow lake is under siege from below: Clouds of algae billow from its bottom.
"It stinks," said Royce Warner, 10, Midvale, who spent part of Wednesday afternoon canoeing around the lake. "It looks like duck crap, and it probably is."
In so many words, that's the point City Councilman Alan Hardman is making about the lake, which is tucked in the southeast corner of the park at 700 E. 1300 South.
Hardman complained about the lake to Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini this week, saying the pond looks bad and smells worse.
"Every year there seems to be this recurring problem with scum developing on the surface of the water," Hardman said. "It's just a very unsightly situation, creates foul odors and detracts from the park. It's just a layer of scum that is floating on top of the pond. It doesn't seem very inviting to me."
And where nature isn't at work making a mess of the lake, man is. Castoff red and white paper cups dot the bottom of the lake like sunken reefs. Plastic pop bottles and other litter bob along the edge of Liberty Lake.
"I think it's pretty unpleasant sitting here," said Joey McKay, Salt Lake City, who waited Wednesday with book in hand under the shade of a tree at the water's edge. Her son and one of his friends had just taken a paddle boat out on the lake.
"I was hoping this 15 minutes would pass quickly," McKay said.
The problem at the lake - which is what city officials call it, although pond might be more accurate - has three roots: The lake is shallow; it's filled with irrigation water that originates in Utah Lake, the state's ultimate scum pond; and because there's no circulation, the water stagnates.
Liberty Lake is really a detention pond for stormwater runoff. It ranges in depth from 1 inch to 3 feet.
In the past, water from Red Butte and Parley's Canyon streams fed into the lake. But for the past two years, there hasn't been enough water in the streams to go around. The shortage forced city officials to divert Utah Lake water flowing in the Jordan River to the pond.
"If we didn't put the water in that way, there wouldn't be any water in the pond," said Dallas Richins, Salt Lake City water distribution superintendent. "There is nothing really they can do."
"As long as the sun shines on the water you're going to have that. You can't make it look clean and pretty and like sparkly water," Richins said.
But park officials do their best.
Two or three times each summer, park workers drain Liberty Lake. After the water is emptied, they treat the algae that remain with a herbicide. Park workers gave the lake the once-over in mid-June.
But the hot weather has made the algae bloom with a vengence.
"It's a real problem for us and one honestly we would like to resolve," said Val Pope, parks maintenance superintendent. "We've looked at a lot of different options and tried some. In a year with the conditions we have, I'm not sure there are options. A lake of that depth becomes nothing more than a greenhouse, encouraging aquatic growth.
"Sometimes we're just at the mercy of Mother Nature in how we respond," Pope said.
City employees say the putrid water isn't dangerous. (Swimming and wading are prohibited at the lake, but that doesn't stop some people - kids, especially - from dipping into the water.)
"I wouldn't swim around and drink it," Richins said. "Personal opinion, I wouldn't even get in it. But . . . it's the same water as the Jordan River."
Then again, there's a bright side to everything.
With boyish enthusiasm, Warner said the algae's color is nice.
"It makes it look a little bit good, the green stuff makes it look alive," he said. And, best of all it "traps the ducks" which makes them easier for little boys to get close to.