Environews for May 2020

By Amy Brunvand

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone —Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)


Earthquake preparedness

Now is a good time to update your family disaster plan. The 5.7 earthquake that shook Magna and surrounding areas on March 18 (followed by 1,370 aftershocks as of April 17) was not quite the Big One, but it was plenty scary.

The Utah Seismic Safety Commission has an excellent free downloadable handbook called Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country (2008) which includes helpful disaster planning information and an emergency supply checklist.

Be Ready Utah: www.utah.gov/beready/earthquakePreparedness.html. University of Utah Seismograph Stations: www.quake.utah.edu


Earthquake epicenter is under Inland Port

The area slated for Inland Port development overlies the epicenter of earthquakes that rattled Salt Lake City for several weeks in March and April. What could go wrong? The fault that slipped was not the famous Wasatch Fault; it was a virtually unknown fault near the Oquirrh Mountains. After the quake, geologists scrambled to install geophones so they can learn more how it might be connected to the Wasatch Fault system.

All things considered, this was a fairly minor earthquake, though it knocked the trumpet from the hand of the statue of angel Moroni that used to stand atop the Salt Lake City LDS Temple.

Salt Lake County estimates that the earthquake caused $48.5 million in damage to government buildings and schools alone—that’s not counting damage to homes and businesses. The Salt Lake International Airport was evacuated; 73,000 people lost power; shelving for the State’s art collection collapsed in the Rio Grande Building; brick chimneys crumbled. TRAX rail lines were shut down to assess damage.

The Inland Port development area is already known to be in an earthquake “liquifaction zone” where the ground is composed of unconsolidated sediments that create particularly hazardous conditions.

To date, the Inland Port has still had no environmental planning. Now that earthquake hazards no longer seem so theoretical, it’s one more compelling reason to stop the polluting port.

Stop the Polluting Port: www.stopthepollutingport.org


Utah’s public lands close down

After the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, Utahns had to endure spring break with no ski lifts, no national or state parks and no Easter camping trips on federal public lands.

At first, tourism boosters, Utah newspapers and the Department of the Interior trumpeted outdoor recreation as a safe haven from the disease. Then on March 14 Aspen, Colorado shut down due to a coronavirus outbreak. It became obvious that it was a bad idea to bring together a lot of people traveling from far-flung places, and Utah’s ski areas soon shut down as well.

Public lands were next. On March 16, the Director of Moab Regional Hospital sent a letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert pointing out that, “although the desert around Moab is vast, the town itself is small… cruise ship small… with similar isolation and limitations in resources.”

On March 16, the Southeastern  Utah Heath Department closed hotels in Carbon, Emery and Grand counties. Even as gateway communities begged tourists to stay home, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt encouraged National Park visitation by offering free entry to “recreate, embrace nature, and implement some social distancing.”

On March 27, Utah Governor Gary Herbert issued a “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive that included a mandate: “Do not go to or engage in activities at a state park located outside the county in which you reside.”  Arches and Canyonlands national parks closed to visitors on March 28, and the rest of Utah’s “Mighty Five” soon followed suit.

Park closures sent hoards of outdoor recreationists to more undeveloped places like the San Rafael Swell until county health departments issued  more general “no camping” orders for BLM public lands.

These wild places might not miss us, but we certainly miss them. It’s a good time to reflect on what these places are worth to us, and why we need to protect them.


Too much energy leasing in Southern Utah

Even though the price of oil futures plummeted to less than zero during the pandemic (meaning energy production was so much greater than demand that there was no place to store the excess), the Trump Administration is nonetheless set to unleash a tsunami of new oil and gas leasing on the Moab area.

The Bureau of Land Management September 2020 lease sale includes 250 parcels that cover more than 150,000 acres, including proposed wilderness lands near Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Bears Ears, and Deadhorse Point.

The sheer density of leases could completely change the character of popular recreation areas to resemble fossil fuel sacrifice zones in the Uinta Basin.

A 2016 “Moab Master Leasing Plan” was supposed to prevent conflicts between leasing and recreation. However, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says that the Trump Administration has “wea­ponized that plan and is now promoting leasing in a magnitude and scope that was never intended.”

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: www.suwa.org


Three cheers for trails!

With travel shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, people along the Wasatch Front got a chance to rediscover our local urban trail system including gems like Bonneville Shoreline Trail, the Jordan River Trail, Parley’s Trail, the Legacy Parkway Trail and Corner Canyon Trails.

Spring weather also drew a noticeable increase of bicycles onto Salt Lake County’s extensive system of bike lanes.

Trails are a source of community resilience, essential exercise and mental equilibrium. The trails are here now because of visionary people who imagined them and public support to build them.

Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation is in the process of updating the countywide Regional Trails Master Plan in order to inventory trails and fill the gaps. Salt Lake City also has active planning for trails and natural lands.

Salt Lake County Regional Trails Master Plan: www.slco.org/parks-recreation/planning/projects/regional-trails-master-planning/  Salt Lake City Trails: www.slc.gov/parks/trails-natural-lands


Kane County withdraws from Lake Powell Pipeline

The Kane County Water District, led by former Utah legislator Mike Noel, has withdrawn support for the Lake Powell Pipeline project. Now Washington County is the only county still supporting an unnecessary, environmentally damaging and astronomically expensive project meant to carry water 140 miles from Lake Powell to southwest Utah.

Kane County has never needed Lake Powell water. A Utah Division of Water Resources analysis found that the existing water supply will accommodate projected growth until at least 2060.

However, Mike Noel happens to own property in Kane County that would have become significantly more valuable if the pipeline were built. In 2018, The Utah Rivers Council asked Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to investigate an apparent conflict of interest regarding Noel’s official advocacy of a public project that would provide him significant personal benefit.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation is currently preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Lake Powell Pipeline that is due for release in June 2020.

Utah Rivers Council: utahrivers.org

This article was originally published on May 2, 2020.