Environews: August 2017

By Amy Brunvand

First we pollute the wilderness, then we pollute our minds with the belief that we’ve done the right thing. — Mark Strand

Audubon to focus on saline lakes, Colorado River

The National Audubon Society has based a new Saline Lakes program out of Salt Lake City in order to prioritize protection of Great Salt Lake—the single most important inland shorebird site in North America.

Salty lakes in the Great Basin are remnants of ancient fresh-water lakes and are recharged when water collects between mountain ranges and evaporates instead of flowing to the sea. An Audubon Society report, Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline, notes that these landlocked salt lakes are “the unsung heroes that birds like the American avocet and eared grebe depend on for survival,” but due to human water use, they are drying up.

The Saline Lakes Program is part of a larger Western Water Initiative that includes the Colorado River Basin where cottonwood-willow forests are a particularly important habitat for birds, also threatened by human water use. Dams prevent the flooding that regenerates these plant communities, and groundwater pumping can kill them in a matter of days.

“There’s no doubt, the challenges we face on the Colorado River and across saline lakes are significant,” the Audubon report concludes. “However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t enough water to go around. There is.”

But not if Western water policy stays stuck in the past. “We need a new phase of collaboration, innovation and flexibility when it comes to how we use and manage our water. Solving these water challenges will require reshaping water management so that the people, birds, and wildlife of the arid West can thrive together,“ the report concludes.

Water and Birds in the Arid West: Habitats in Decline. audubon.org/conservation/western-water

Utah 50-year water strategy

One reason that the Audubon society is concerned about Utah water is that existing state water plans could spell catastrophe for migrating shorebirds.

Envision Utah has released a 50-year plan for Utah’s water based on the assumption that Utah’s population will double to six million people by 2060. In order to support this human population growth, the plan places priority on maintaining water-wasting agricultural practices and building large-scale water diversions like the Bear River Project.

The water strategy can be taken as a warning as much as an actual plan. It’s clear that better water policy and environmental conservation need to be priorities, because any other choice will end up destroying the very qualities that make Utah a great place to live.

Recommend State Water Strategy: envisionutah.org/projects/utah-water-strategy

Toxic algae returns

At the end of June, satellite images showed a toxic algal bloom spreading in Utah Lake. By July a health advisory warned the public to avoid dark green areas with scum, foam or other visible signs of algae, and by July 14 toxin levels had risen so that people were advised not to swim or water-ski anywhere in Utah Lake.

As of July 12, the Utah Poison Control Center reported 68 cases of illness related to the algal bloom, 55 of them human, with symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, dizziness and skin irritation.

Algal blooms are due to high levels of nutrients in the water, such as urban effluent and agricultural runoff, combined with warm temperatures (a consequence of climate change). In the 2017 General Session, the Utah Legislature passed HCR26 “Urging Restoration of Utah Lake,” but it was only a message bill with no funding or action plan attached.

DEQ Harmful Algal Blooms: deq.utah.gov/Divisions/ dwq/ health-advisory/harmful-algal-blooms

Seven Canyons Trust to daylight creeks

The Seven Canyons Trust and Salt Lake City have raised $1.2 million to restore a 6-acre open space in the Glendale neighborhood where Red Butte Creek, Emigration Creek and Parley’s Creek flow into the Jordan River. Currently, the confluence is paved over, littered with garbage and overgrown with invasive species. The idea to “reactivate” the creeks was developed in 2014 by students in a University of Utah Urban Ecology Workshop taught by Stephen Goldsmith. The students (including Biran Tonetti who is currently Executive Director of Seven Canyons Trust) wrote a report, “100 Years of Daylighting” which used Three Creeks as a case study for how to rehabilitate the area into an ecologically healthy habitat. The student report won an award from the Utah chapter of the American Planning Association and inspired Salt Lake City and the Jordan River Commission to support a real-life project. Construction is scheduled to begin in Fall 2017.

Three Creeks Confluence Project: slcgov.com/open-space/ three-creeks-confluence-project; 100 Years of Daylighting: SevenCanyonsTrust.org/100-years-of-daylighting

Mia Love wins climate prize

Mia Love (R-UT-4) has received a Climate Leadership Award from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) for “extraordinary leadership and bold commitment to environmental stewardship.”

In January, Love joined the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group with equal membership of Democrats and Republicans and a mission to foster bipartisan discussion towards better climate policies. Her decision to join the group helped break the ice to encourage other Republicans to join, and Caucus membership now stands at 48. Love has Haitian ancestry, and the 2017 “Global Climate Risk Index” shows Haiti ranked third among countries most affected by climate risk.

While the Caucus has not yet endorsed any specific plan, CCL advocates a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would be returned directly to taxpayers. Details of the CCL plan are given in a 2013 study, The Economic, Climate, Fiscal, Power, and Demographic Impact of a National Fee-and-Dividend Carbon Tax, available on their website.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby: CitizensClimateLobby.org

Mike Noel blames“rock lickers” for fires

In June and July the Brianhead fire in the Dixie National Forest burned more than 71,000 acres and racked up over $34 million in firefighting costs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized federal funds to cover 75% of firefighting costs; the rest will come from the State and Iron County.

During the crisis, representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab) delivered a scientifically inaccurate rant claiming that unregulated logging could have prevented the blaze: “When we turned the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny-lovers and the tree-huggers and the rock-lickers we turned our history over,” he griped.

The truth is, without careful management, salvage logging can cause more harm than the problems it is supposed to solve. From 1995-1997, federal law exempted “emergency” salvage timber sales from environmental regulation. Environmental groups strongly opposed the policy because mismanaged salvage logging not only damages watersheds, recreation and wildlife habitat, it prevents forest recovery and can prolong insect infestation by eliminating insectivores.

Research shows that selectively harvesting commercially viable large trees fails to reduce fire risk because fires spread through smaller trees and brush.

Noel’s name-calling and overly simplistic ideas about forestry are particularly unhelpful because to cope with climate change we need science-based forestry policies appropriate to hotter, drier conditions that increase the risk of wildfire in the West.

Zion Park crowds: Comments due August 14

In 1909, President Taft used the Antiquities Act to designate Mukuntu-Weap National Monument in southwest Utah—the place we now know as Zion National Park. The park is a national treasure, but it’s too popular. Over the past 10 years, visitation at Zion National Park has increased 60%, to 4.3 million visitors in 2016 and a mind-boggling 90,000 visitors on the past Memorial Day weekend.

The National Park Service is proposing to implement a reservation system for popular front-country hikes and is currently gathering public comments for a new Visitor Use Management Plan.

Submit your comments electronically at parkplanning.nps. gov/zion or by mail: Visitor Use Planning Team/ Zion National Park/ State Route 9/ Springdale, UT 84767-1099

West Davis Corridor comments due August 31

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has released a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the West Davis Corridor, 19 miles of new freeway that slices through human communities and bird habitat near Farmington Bay.

The EIS states that the project is needed to improve regional and peak-period “mobility,” a misleading term that means “flow of through traffic” (not local access to neighborhoods or shopping centers). Public comment is open through August 31.

West Davis Corridor Final EIS



Economic benefits of “active transportation”

Government spending on walking and biking can have big paybacks in the form of health benefits, tourism, sales of goods and services, increased real estate values and greenhouse gas reduction, according to a study commissioned by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). The study estimates that in 2015 the economic impact of cycling in Utah was $303.9 million, nearly 2,000 jobs, and over $46 million in income.

Utah Active Transportation Benefits Study: BikeUtah.org/atbenefitsstudy

HEAL Utah seeks a new director

Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) is looking for a new executive director. Matt Pacenza, who has directed the organization since 2011, is moving on to teach high-school.

With Pacenza in charge, HEAL Utah helped keep an EnergySolutions executive off of a state board that regulates nuclear waste, blocked plans for a nuclear reactor in Green River, convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require pollution controls on Utah’s coal power plants and helped transform air pollution from a fringe issue into a mainstream concern.

HEAL Utah is a grassroots organization that works to promote clean energy and protect Utah from toxic, nuclear and dirty energy threats. The organization formed in 1996 as the “West Desert Healthy Environment Alliance” in response to a cancer cluster in Tooele County, which Chip Ward wrote about in Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West.

For HEAL executive director job description go to: HealUtah.org/edjob


This article was originally published on August 1, 2017.