SALT LAKE CITY — Multiple groups have been working for decades to safeguard the Wasatch Mountains' watershed, but a new, nationally created, pilot project aims to turn the tap on those efforts to make them function in tandem.
The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest was selected as one of five areas in the country to explore the creation of public/private partnerships for watershed protection.
In a recent meeting, the 15 initial members of the Wasatch Water Legacy Partnership mapped out issues, identified challenges and outlined summer projects designed to put sweat on the ground to accomplish goals.
With 60 percent of Salt Lake Valley's water supply deriving from the Wasatch Mountains, the goal is to beef up protections in light of escalating pressures mounting from increased recreation and a growing population.
"There are more and more pressures," said Laura Briefer, Salt Lake City's special projects manager. "The demands for recreation services within our watersheds is going up, and on the flip side, you have an increase in population that will dip into this watershed. We don't want it left to dust."
Briefer said U.S. Department of Agriculture's Undersecretary Harris Sherman chose this area in part because Salt Lake City already enjoys a long history of partnering with the U.S. Forest Service for land-use issues that embrace watershed protections.
Such collaboration, Briefer said, needs to be built upon to include the efforts or even the dollars of companies or private organizations that want to retain a pristine water supply for more than a half million people.
"The future of the Forest Service is that budgets will not be increasing," Briefer said. "Yet all these pressures are increasing."
Such inability to have funding keep pace with demands can result in forest systems unable to withstand devastating wildfires or rampant infestations, she said.
Two fires with subsequent rainstorms in Colorado led to more than $30 million in costs to remove sediment from a reservoir critical to the drinking water supply. Costs also included restoration of the forest system such as soil stabilization.
An ensuing partnership formed last year joined Denver Water with the U.S. Forest Service, which agreed to split a $33 million commitment aimed at forestry management of nearly 40,000 acres over five years.
Cheryl Probert, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Service's deputy supervisor, said the challenges here are different than in Colorado, but the premise of a partnership is similar.
"The idea is a public-private partnership that helps with land stewardship, with the focus here on the sustainable recreation piece along with ecological restoration."
Other pilot projects are going forward in California and in Arizona, aimed at similar protections, Probert said.
Locally, the project boundaries are City Creek Canyon to the north and Corner Canyon in Draper on the south, with partners that include Save Our Canyons, Salt Lake County and the town of Alta.
A kickoff event for trail restoration was held earlier this month, but more volunteer opportunities exist Aug. 6 at the Silver Lake Work Day, when workers are needed for board walk and picnic table repairs and weed pulling. Other activities are being planned for Sept. 24 for National Public Lands Day.
For more information, call 801-539-5333 or 801-733-2675.
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