Environews: August 2011

By Amy Brunvand

Snake Valley Aquifer hearing; National Parks rate only fair; Glen Canyon news; SLC Bikeways map; Sugar House bike tunnel coming.

Snake Valley Aquifer hearing

The BLM has scheduled public hearings on a draft environmental impact statement about a proposal to withdraw groundwater from Snake Valley in southwest Utah in order to pipe it to Las Vegas. Lowering the Snake Valley water table is expected to dry up springs, resulting in a dustbowl that will destroy local agriculture and wildlife habitat and blow clouds of dust over Salt Lake City. Nevada has its eye on groundwater because the state’s share of Colorado River water is maxed out.

Public Hearing: Aug. 11: Salt Lake City, 4-9 p.m. at Hampton Inn and Suites, 307 N. Admiral Byrd Road, Salt Lake International Center. The comment period for the Draft EIS ends Sept. 9.

http://tinyurl.com/blmdrafteis, http://www.greatbasinwater.net

The Dept. of the Interior’s economic contributions

When a flash flood washed out the Mineral Bottom road near Moab, cutting off access to the popular White Rim Trail and a boat launch, economists estimated that loss of the road would cost Grand County businesses 87 jobs and nearly $5 million in lost revenues per year. This is just one example of the direct economic benefits of recreation on Utah’s public lands, particularly in rural areas of the state. A U.S. Department of the Interior report released in June says that 20,319 jobs in Utah are directly related to public lands recreation (on par with the only slightly higher figure of 27,741 energy and mineral jobs). The report discredits the claim made by many Utah politicians that conservation on public lands costs Utah jobs.


National Parks only fair

America’s national parks are only in fair condition, according to the Center for Park Research at the National Parks Conservation Association, and the recession isn’t helping. A new report says that as of fiscal year 2010, the National Park Service has an annual operating shortfall of more than $600 million and is facing a backlog of maintenance projects totaling nearly $11 billion. Among the parks assessed for natural resource conditions, 95% had at least one wildlife or plant species that had disappeared, often large predators necessary for a healthy ecosystem. An unrelated study from the U.S. Forest Service found that in Yellowstone National Park, pine-beetle infestations related to climate change have decimated whitebark pine trees—and the pine nuts are a staple food for grizzly bears. Utah has five national parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion) and six national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge and Timpanogos Cave).


Upstream/downstream: Glen Canyon Dam in the news

Upstream: After 10 years of drought, water levels in Lake Powell are on the rise again. The last time Lake Powell’s reservoir elevation was at this level was in 2001. As the lake level sank during the drought years, submerged canyons, rivers and archeological sites began to resurface. Natural ecosystem restoration began to happen more quickly than anyone anticipated, and the Glen Canyon Institute called for a new management plan for the canyons exposed by the low lake levels saying, “Our generation has been given a miraculous second chance to witness Glen Canyon and take part in the restoration of one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures.” Counterintuitively, reducing lake levels may be the most practical way to increase usable water for the human population. The 1922 compact that allocated Colorado River water overestimated the amount of water in the Colorado River Basin. Even in normal water years, demand for water far exceeds water supply. The huge surface area of Lake Powell evaporates enough water annually to supply the city of Los Angeles for a year.

Downstream: The Glen Canyon dam, completed in 1963, used to be managed to maximize power generation, up until 1992, when the devastating ecological effects on Grand Canyon National Park below the dam prompted Congress to pass the Grand Canyon Protection Act. Since then, scientists have been experimenting with controlled water releases, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to mimic spring floods that used to happen in the free-flowing river system. Recently the U.S. Department of Interior began work on a new long-term experimental and management plan to update the last plan written 15 years ago. The new plan will determine whether to establish a recovery program for endangered fish species below Glen Canyon Dam, taking into account new scientific information and global climate change. In other good news for the Grand Canyon, the Obama administration extended a moratorium on new uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon region, though congressional Republicans immediately made moves to undo the ban.

http://www.glencanyon.org, http://www.grandcanyontrust.org

SLC Bikeways map

Are you feeling unsure about how to get from here to there on your bicycle? The new Salt Lake City Bikeways map can help. The map shows bike lanes, shared lanes and quiet streets for safer, happier in-town cycling. Pick up a free copy at local bike shops, get a sturdy plasticized map for $4.00 or look at the PDF on the web.


Sugar House bike tunnel under construction

Speaking of bikes, construction has begun on a bike/pedestrian tunnel to connect the Sugar House business district with Sugar House Park, creating a critical link between the Bonneville Shoreline Trail and the Jordan River Trail and adding a key section to Salt Lake City’s steadily growing non-motorized trail system. Artist Patricia Johanson is designing the tunnel in the shape of a giant sego lily.


This article was originally published on July 29, 2011.