Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Skiers walk to their car on Little Cottonwood Canyon Road in Alta on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

Brigham Young took control of City Creek Canyon shortly after Salt Lake City was functioning. He did so for two specific reasons. First, City Creek was the vital source for irrigation and drinking water for the fledgling city. Second, he had witnessed firsthand the damage done to Emigration and Parleys canyons when there was no regulation. Overgrazing and bad water management had significantly diminished the good water supply from those two canyons.

During Young’s ownership, one could not enter past the toll gate near the corner of the present intersection of North Temple and State Street without a permission slip signed personally by Young. This type of stewardship has been a strong Utah tradition for more than 150 years.

However, the tradition could shortly be bypassed by a proposal being put forward by the Utah Department of Transportation. This deviation is taking the form of an amendment to an environmental impact statement of which UDOT is the lead or defining agency.

As it stands now, UDOT is asking the newly created Central Wasatch Commission, or CWC, to narrowly define the scope of the environmental impact statement. That is to limit its analysis and how the $66 million allocated will be spent to only the immediate impact of the possible changes to traffic flow in the Cottonwood canyons. The amendment, if accepted by CWC, would let us know the impact of adding new parking stalls or garages without any analysis of what the overall impact of increased visitation in the Cottonwoods would have on our vital watershed, which supplies more than 30 percent of Salt Lake County’s water supply.

In 1974 and 1975, while in law school, I did an analysis of what the legislative intent was under the recently passed Clean Air and Clean Water acts. I had the privilege of interviewing both Sen. Muskie and Sen. Baker, the lead authors of the legislation. Both agreed a major worry was the intended broad scope of the environmental impact statement would be whittled away so that major government projects would go forward without a complete and thorough analysis of the proposed project on the impacted environment.

I serve on the recently created CWC advisory committee. During our first meeting, I raised the need to amend the amendment to include an analysis of the visitor capacity for the Cottonwoods during all four seasons of the year.

1 comment on this story

I was told more experienced hands would deal with the question in the future. My worry is that future component will not be done in a timely manner. That is, the environmental impact statement will approve enhanced traffic carrying capacity so instead of 15,000 visitors per day we could have 30,000 or 40,000 visitors per day with the inevitable result of irreparably damaging our vital watershed.

Don’t misunderstand me. Anyone who has been caught in the “red dragon” in Little Cottonwood or its cousin the “red fox” in Big Cottonwood understands our transportation in and out of the canyons needs to be improved. But before we let the horses into the pasture, let’s make sure we know how many horses it can carry without doing irreparable harm.