***Canyon residents may return home for good, page A1.
Salt Lake water officials and U.S. Forest Service rangers were expected to meet Tuesday morning to discuss strategy to protect the city's watershed from effects of the 5,600-acre Affleck Park fire in Emigration Canyon.Meanwhile, authorities closed City Creek Canyon on the city's northern border, a major source of Salt Lake water, to vehicle traffic to avoid another major blaze in an important watershed area.
The Affleck Park blaze has scorched trees and other vegetation, exposing bare ground to fall rains that could wash tons of topsoil into the city's water system, said Wendell Evensen, city water supply superintendent.
The problem is not serious, Evensen said, but runoff could create difficulties at Mountain Dell Reservoir in Parleys Canyon, where the city maintains Parleys Water Treatment Plant. Significant runoff following the fire could partially fill the reservoir, which supplies 10 percent of the city's water, with mud, he said.
"It doesn't seem like a real emergency; it's an inconvenience, but it's something we can deal with," he said.
Evensen said he would meet Tuesday with Dick Kline, Salt Lake district ranger for the Forest Service, to plan a rehabilitation program as soon as the fire is snuffed out.
"It will be a fairly major rehabilitation effort. We're trying to touch all the bases to find out what different inputs we're going to need," Kline said.
Rehabilitation will entail reseeding at least 3,000 acres of scorched land as well as construction of erosion barriers and contouring steep hillsides to prevent severe erosion, Kline said.
"The thing is to try and get something established on the steeper areas as soon as we can," he said.
The Forest Service and the city are the major landowners in the area. Neither official would speculate on who would be responsible for funding the rehabilitation effort.
City Creek Canyon was closed Tuesday to motor traffic for the rest of the winter, although joggers and bicyclists will be allowed into the popular canyon, said Russ Hone, city watershed patrol supervisor.
"City Creek has the potential of burning to the ground. It's just going to take one mistake from one person, so as a safety precaution we're going to be shutting the picnicking down," Hone said. City officials close the canyon at the end of September anyway, Hone pointed out, so few people should be inconvenienced. Those who have paid for reservations to use the canyon are being contacted to arrange refunds, he said.