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Healthy Watersheds for a Healthy Utah

DEQ’s Division of Water Quality (DWQ) conducts water-quality monitoring to evaluate watershed conditions, collect valuable water-quality information, and determine whether waterbodies are meeting their designated beneficial uses.

A watershed is a geographic area that drains into a common body of water such as a stream, river, lake, or wetland. Watersheds act like a funnel, channeling precipitation from the highest point in an area to the lowest point. Some of the water soaks into the soil as groundwater, while some flows into smaller tributaries or creeks that join together to form streams or rivers. These streams and rivers may then flow into larger areas to form lakes. All that’s required for an area to be considered a watershed is that the water it contains flows downhill and collects in a body of water.

Importance of watersheds

An area’s water quality is tied to the health of its watershed, which provides a number of important ecological functions. They reduce erosion, regulate surface water and groundwater flow, prevent flooding, stabilize stream banks, filter and purify water, and provide important habitat for plants and animals. Many communities and individuals rely on healthy watersheds for clean drinking water, recreation, and agriculture.

We don’t always think about the financial value of a healthy watershed until we start comparing it with investments in new or improved infrastructure such as drinking water treatment plants and flood control measures. It is often more cost-effective to invest in watershed protection than mitigation. The natural infrastructure provided by a watershed is a valuable and overlooked resource that can save millions of dollars in engineered solutions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than $450 BILLION in food and fiber, manufactured goods, and tourism in the U.S. depend on clean water and healthy watersheds.

Threats to healthy watersheds

Stormwater and nonpoint source runoff are the major sources of pollution to our watersheds. As water flows through the watershed, it picks up contaminants from runoff from urban areas, parking lots, roads, agricultural and residential areas, construction sites, and faulty septic systems. These contaminants can include chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, oil and gasoline, E. coli from human and animal waste, pathogens, toxic materials, and sediment.

Division of Water Quality employees are committed to protecting and restoring the water quality in Utah watersheds.

Our role

Watershed monitoring is the best way to assess the condition of Utah waters. We conduct water-quality monitoring to evaluate water-quality conditions, collect valuable information about overall watershed health, and determine whether waterbodies are meeting their designated beneficial uses. Utah’s waterways are assigned specific beneficial uses, including drinking water, recreation, agriculture, and cold-water fisheries, and we develop criteria to protect, and if necessary, restore those uses. Waters not meeting the standards that protect for their beneficial uses are placed on the 303(d) List of Impaired Waterbodies. Once these waters are listed, we conduct in-depth water quality studies to identify the possible sources of the pollutants causing the impairment and create a plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to restore the waters to their beneficial uses.

How you can help

  • Limit fertilizer use on your lawn
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Never pour chemicals, pharmaceuticals, or oil down the drain, toilet, or storm drain
  • Fix leaky septic systems
  • Use a rain barrel
  • Pick up after your dog
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