Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: May 2013

By Amy Brunvand

Colorado River most endan- gered; Herbert nixes West Desert water grab; Bishop pro- poses public lands dialogue; Willard Bay oil spill; ALEC: Get the public out of public lands; SLC Green Bikes; Park City to ban plastic bags?
—by Amy Brunvand

Colorado River most endangered

American Rivers has named the Colorado River as the most threatened river in America in 2013 due to outdated water management. The report cites data from a recent Bureau of Reclamation Study which shows there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet current demands, let alone to support future demand from growing populations in an era of climate change.

Current Western water policy is on course for disaster as Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and Wyoming duke it out trying to grab their own water allotment before the water flows downstream. To preserve river recreation, wildlife habitat and water supplies, the states will somehow need to prioritize conservation over the kind of water grabbing encouraged by use-it-or-lose-it water laws.

In response to the report, the Utah Rivers Council has released a new video titled, “Utah Childishness Endangers Colorado River.”
http://americanrivers.org/endangered-rivers, http://tinyurl.com/crbstudy

Herbert nixes West Desert water grab

Governor Herbert rejected a controversial agreement that would have allowed Nevada to pipe groundwater from an aquifer under Snake Valley on the western border of Utah. Ranchers and environmentalists who opposed the agreement believe that the amount of available water was overestimated and that lowering the aquifer would cause a dust bowl destroying local agriculture and making air pollution worse on the Wasatch Front.

Herbert seems more concerned about not letting Nevada get any of Utah’s water than making progress towards sustainable water policy. Nonetheless, this was the right environmental decision.

Bishop proposes public lands dialogue

U.S. Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-R-1), of all people, is calling for a dialogue on the future of Utah’s public lands. On the one hand, this might be a good thing. Utah’s public land battles are often not as intractable as you might think if all the stakeholders are invited to the table in good faith.

During the 2013 General Session of the Utah Legislature, Senate Minority leader Jim Dabakis (D, District 2) called for just such a dialogue, though his proposal was never voted on. On the other hand, Bishop in particular has been responsible for fanning the flames of disagreement. Bishop is the one who introduced “SkiLink” legislation to privatize a strip of land in the Wasatch Mountains backcountry in order to allow the ski industry to avoid a public planning process. As a past chair and current member of the antagonistic Congres­sional Western Caucus Bishop has involved himself in countless attacks on public lands conservation; and even as Bishop calls for dialogue he has introduced legislation to “improve” (read, “gut”) the Antiquities Act that allows the President of the United States to preserve threatened historic sites and allowed the creation of the Grand Saircase-Escalante National Monument.

Willard Bay oil spill

On March 18 another Chevron oil pipeline burst (the third in three years), spilling 600 barrels of diesel into Willard Bay on the Great Salt Lake. The spill happened at the start of the spring migration when hundreds of thousands of birds depend on the Great Salt Lake as a stopover. Things could have been worse, though. The spill was partly contained by beaver dams. Six oil-soaked beavers were taken to the non-profit Wildlife Rehabili­tation Center of Northern Utah where they are recovering from burns and respiratory problems caused by the oil.

ALEC: Get the public out of public lands

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative corporate front that feeds pre-written bills to state legislators, and when ALEC members met in Salt Lake City this past July they were met with vigorous protest by citizens who object to having local government taken over by secretive corporate money.

It’s no surprise to read in a new report from the Center for American Progress that ALEC and not Utah public opinion is the driving force behind efforts by the Utah Legisla­ture to privatize federal public lands in Utah.

SLC Green Bikes

Salt Lake City has a new bike sharing service. GREENbikes are designed for short trips in the city by people wearing regular clothes and carrying ordinary stuff. You can buy a membership for 24 hours, seven days, or a whole year, and use a bike for short trips around town instead of getting in your car or waiting for the bus.

Park City to ban plastic bags?

City Hall in Park city is considering a ban on one-time-use plastic grocery bags. So far, only a short, unofficial discussion has taken place, but city officials expect that the city council and Mayor Dana Williams will officially address the idea by early summer. The ban would be part of Park City’s general environmental program, but the city expects opposition from business groups who fear the ban would increase buisiness costs. Mark Holm, owner of The Market at Park City, told the Park Record last month that he feels the ban would annoy customers and not accomplish much for the environment. He says that during the ski season, The Market distributes nearly 80,000 plastic bags, which cost the store one cent a piece, whereas paper bags cost five to seven cents each.

Last month, Recycle Utah held an online survey about one-time-use plastic bags, and said that more than 90% supported a bag ban (although there were only about 100 responses to the survey at the time). According to Recycle Utah, less than 5% of plastic bags are recycled—the rest either take up space in landfills or float around on the breeze. Either way, they degrade into tiny toxic particles that make their way into the environment.

Park City wouldn’t be the first resort town to ban plastic bags: Telluride and Aspen, Colorado already do.

DeChristopher a free man

Just in time for Earth Day, Tim DeChristopher finished serving his prison sentence for disrupting a 2008 BLM oil and gas lease auction. He celebrated by giving an Earth Day sermon at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, doing an interview on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, and doing a nationwide telecast Q&A to about 50 nationwide screenings of the film “Bidder 70” about his act of civil disobedience. DeChristopher plans to attend Harvard Divinity School in order to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.

This article was originally published on April 26, 2013.