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Development in canyons destroy legacy

Allowing development in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons would destroy a legacy — and our precious water

By Charlie Luke | Salt Lake Tribune

When Brigham Young’s party arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, work immediately began to utilize and protect the scarce water available. City Creek was the first to be used for irrigation and fresh water, followed quickly by Red Butte Creek, Emigration Creek, Mill Creek, Big Cottonwood Creek, and Little Cottonwood Creek, as well as the many springs along the foothills.

Salt Lake City was officially incorporated in 1851, after which Brigham Young turned over authority to city government. One of the new City Council’s first acts was to put in place watershed protections: “Be it ordained by the City Council of Great Salt Lake City no person or persons shall be allowed to build cow yards or deposit any filthy substance in or near any of the streams through this city so as to affect the waters thereof.” 

That ordinance, building on three years of established water management practices, began a legacy lasting over 170 years of careful, responsible watershed protection by Salt Lake City.

Because of our arid environment and growing population, we remain dependent on snowpack and the same canyon creeks for our drinking water. Salt Lake City’s policies in the Wasatch canyons protect the drinking water for more than one million people. Without strict regulations, the watershed could easily be polluted, which would not only negatively impact us, but future generations as well.

Unfortunately, our watersheds are now imperiled by a small group of individuals who purchased properties in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons knowing that watershed rules prohibited development. This group is now lobbying the Utah State Legislature to change the law to benefit themselves, at the expense of our drinking water. Rep. Mike Noel’s proposed House Bill 135 would undermine nearly two centuries of effective watershed management.

It’s ironic that the same legislators who are so willing to strictly regulate every aspect of alcohol distribution in the name of public health and safety, seem willing to consider harming public health and safety by deregulating our preservation of clean water.

Salt Lake City’s greatest legacy is the protection of our precious water resources. I hope that legislators will see HB135 for what it is — needless state overreach with no benefit — except for a handful of property owners in the Cottonwood canyons — but with the very real potential to forever jeopardize our watershed, on which we all depend.