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Protecting Utah’s Watersheds


A watershed is the area drained by a stream and its tributary branches, or in other words, the land area over which water flows or travels, and then drains into a stream and its tributaries.

Though many areas of Utah are considered to be desert, the state nevertheless contains more than 16,000 miles of rivers and streams, 3,000 lakes and reservoirs, and approximately 510,000 acres of wetlands. These water resources have been divided into 10 watershed management units.

Watershed Approach

Federal and state agencies are charged with “preventing, controlling, and abating” water pollution. The Watershed Approach relies heavily on active, local involvement because local governments, local health departments, and the citizens within a watershed area are most likely to know watershed conditions, help identify problems, and develop solutions.

The planning process involved in the Watershed Approach is directed by a locally led and sponsored Steering Committee. The Committee sets the direction while a TAC (Technical Advisory Committee) provides staff support.

Developing Water Management Plans

When pollutant levels exceed water quality standards, water management plans to reduce pollution are developed. The plans focus on identifying all significant sources of a pollutant, determining how to eliminate or reduce the amounts of the pollutant, and implementing the plan to restore water quality. The plans must be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

An implementation plan and an evaluation strategy are integral parts of a watershed plan. Watershed planning in Utah revolves around a five-year cycle. Elements of planning include:

  • Develop or modify and implement a data collection plan
  • Assess watershed, identifying issues and sources of pollutants
  • Prioritize and target plans needed to address impaired waters
  • Develop a watershed implementation management strategy, addressing pollutant sources
  • Produce or revise watershed plans
  • Public review of watershed plans
  • Adopt watershed plans
  • Implement watershed plans
  • Monitor and revise plans as needed

Affect of Watershed Plans on Olympic Venues

Probably the most pertinent watershed plan near an Olympic venue involves the Park City area and the East Canyon Creek and Reservoir. These watersheds have experienced explosive growth over the past several years, creating conditions that have contributed to their placement on Utah’s list of impaired waters.

Impairments are manifested in algal and macrophyte growth in the creek and algal blooms in the reservoir. These conditions periodically cause low dissolved oxygen concentrations in the water, which severely affect the fishery. The specific pollutant causing these conditions is phosphorus. The factors causing the impairment are:

  • Discharges of Nutrients From the East Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant
  • Sediment Runoff from Construction Sites
  • Fertilizers Used on Golf Courses and Residential Lawns
  • Runoff From Unpaved Roads and Active Agriculture
  • Low Stream Flows Due to Diversion of Water for Other Uses

Status of Watershed Plans

In accordance with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, a watershed plan was submitted to the EPA in the spring of 2000. A major portion of the plan calls for construction of advanced waste treatment to remove phosphorus at the East Canyon wastewater treatment plant by 2004. In addition, other measures to control polluted runoff will also be required to restore the stream and reservoir, which include:

  • Local Storm Water control Programs
  • Ski Hill Watershed Management Plans
  • Nutrient Management Plans for Golf Courses and Park Areas

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