A new report about whether to federally designate certain Utah waterways as "wild and scenic" starts out by asking the question, "Do you love a Utah river?"
The group Utah Rivers Council adores more than 80 rivers, or segments of rivers, in particular throughout this state, hopeful that at least some of them soon will be listed in the National Wild and Scenic River System.
The new "Renowned Rivers" report singles out 17 of what it calls "Most Beloved Rivers in Utah's National Forests." They include the Green, Uinta, Logan, Whiterocks and Provo rivers and the Huntington, Manning and Death Hollow creeks, to name a few.
Utah Rivers Council's Mark Danenhauer said the U.S. Forest Service will be releasing a final environmental impact statement between now and October, making its recommendation on which rivers in Utah to list. Relying on input from Utah's elected leaders, federal officials are now trying to determine a "suitability" factor for each of the rivers and segments under consideration.
"Ultimately, suitability is a political process it's very, very political," Danenhauer told the Deseret Morning News editorial board Tuesday.
County commissioners in parts of Utah already have spoken out against the federal protection.
"San Juan County is unbelievably opposed to anything related to 'wild and scenic' rivers," Danenhauer said.
Opponents, he added, have deep pockets and more "political sway" and will have resources to fight a federal listing. Danenhauer said his group is right now the only one taking on the issue statewide.
"We're doing all we can, but it's basically fighting this huge, uphill battle," he said. Utah Rivers Council is funded in almost equal parts by foundations, membership dues and a few fund drives during the year.
Support for some segments to make the list has come from commissioners in Summit, Dagget and Carbon counties, he added. His group has met with Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, about the 21 miles of Fish and Gooseberry Creek that flows through Utah, Carbon and Sanpete counties, "and he's noncommittal on it," Danenhauer said.
There are no rivers or creeks in Utah protected under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passed by Congress in 1968. Since then, 165 rivers in 38 states have been protected under the act.
A "wild and scenic" designation protects a river from dam, diversion and encroaching development projects. Fears are that a federal designation will stifle development or endanger water rights around a listed river.
"It's not like we're going to stop any of these sorts of development activities from happening. We just want to make sure they're consistent with the way the river is today," Danenhauer said.
Some rivers that already may qualify for protection are valued for their role as fisheries or for recreation. A listing by Congress would mean those rivers would need to be managed to protect or enhance those values, Danenhauer said. If there is a road or development near a river, such as the Logan River, any development would need to be consistent with what's there today.
Until the process is able to vet which rivers or segments should get federal protection, all 86 under consideration are supposed to be maintained as "wild and scenic," Danenhauer noted. If they don't make the list, they'll be "released," opening them up for other things, including dams and diversions."We support every single one of those 86," he said. "The goal is to preserve rivers that are threatened."
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