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As more people head outdoors, SLC urges watershed protection

Posted at 3:57 PM, May 24, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — As more people head outdoors to hike, fish, camp and just enjoy the nearby canyons, Salt Lake City leaders are urging them to do more to protect the purity of the water.

After all, the water from the canyons is the drinking supply for a significant part of the Salt Lake Valley.

"We provide water to all of Salt Lake City and many communities along the east bench of the Salt Lake Valley that are now incorporated like Millcreek, Cottonwood Heights, Holladay, little parts of South Salt Lake, Murray and Midvale," said Laura Briefer, the director of public utilities for Salt Lake City.

But increased numbers of people who decided to head outdoors in the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased stress on the fragile watershed.

"Our watersheds are being increasingly challenged by the severe demands being placed on them as more and more people look for places to exercise and recreate outdoors, and by climate change impacts that can reduce snowfalls and increase our wildfire risks," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said at a news conference Monday.

The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is one of the most heavily visited forest areas in the nation.

"We even surpass what Yellowstone has in a visitor count," said U.S. Forest Service Ranger Bekee Hotze.

Salt Lake City is renewing its "Keep it Pure" campaign to urge protection of watershed areas as more people get out to enjoy the nice weather. It urges people to:

  • Stay out of the water
  • Stay on trails
  • Only use designated restrooms
  • Don’t litter
  • Keep dogs out of watershed areas

"We have spent centuries protecting our watershed and we really have some of the purest water in the country," said Salt Lake City Council Chair Amy Fowler.

Salt Lake City actually owns a significant amount of the watershed area outside its boundaries in the nearby canyons of the Wasatch Front. Under a law passed by the legislature, it is forbidden from blocking water to communities not within its boundaries. At the same time, the legislature has rebuffed bills that could harm the watershed (a bill to allow dogs in those areas was rejected).

City officials hope that increasing people's awareness of the watershed will lead to more preservation efforts.

"I don’t think we’re in danger per se now, but if we don’t continue to protect it we certainly will be," Fowler said.