SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's Wasatch Mountains have been selected as one of five areas in the country for a pilot project using public-private partnerships for watershed protection.
The U.S. Agriculture Department chose the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest for the project in part because of Salt Lake City's long history as a partner with the U.S. Forest Service on land-use issues that embrace watershed protections, the Deseret News reported.
With 60 percent of the Salt Lake Valley's water supply originating in the Wasatch Mountains, the goal is to beef up protections amid mounting pressures from increased recreation use and a growing population, said Laura Briefer, Salt Lake City's special projects manager.
Because future Forest Service budgets won't be increasing, she said, the government will need the help of companies and private organizations that want to retain a pristine water supply for more than 500,000 people.
"There are more and more pressures," Briefer said. "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."
An inability to have funding keep pace with demands can result in forest systems unable to withstand devastating wildfires or rampant infestations, she added.
Two wildfires with subsequent rainstorms in Colorado led to more than $30 million in costs to remove sediment from a reservoir critical as a drinking water source. Costs also included restoration of the forest system such as soil stabilization.
Last year, Denver Water and the Forest Service joined forces and agreed to split a $33 million commitment aimed at forestry management of nearly 40,000 acres over five years.
At a recent meeting, the 15 initial members of the Wasatch Water Legacy Partnership discussed challenges and summer projects designed to accomplish goals in Utah.
Project boundaries are City Creek Canyon to the north and Corner Canyon in Draper on the south. Project partners include Save Our Canyons, Salt Lake County and the town of Alta.
"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," said Cheryl Probert, deputy supervisor of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.