My View
Our precious watersheds and the Bishop Public Lands Initiative...
by Bob O'Brien
Jun 26, 2014 | 1139 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I have been thinking about the watersheds of Moab and Castle Valley since we built a house in Castle Valley 10 years ago. Perhaps it is our view of the La Sal Mountains, or the fact that we had our own well drilled. I think of the water flowing from the La Sal Mountains 200 feet beneath our house, but coming near the surface at the lower, northern end of the valley. The watersheds for Moab and Castle Valley, including the Negro Bill drainage, comprise only about 4.5 percent of the land area in Grand County, but provide water for over 90 percent of its population.

The ongoing Public Lands Initiative process initiated by Congressman Rob Bishop has citizens like me thinking about what natural resources are important enough to gain protection within the county. During that process I have had the privilege, along with other concerned citizens, of reading two rounds of letters submitted to the Grand County Council from the citizens of Grand County. A common theme is the protection of both the quantity and quality of our pristine water that arrives from the La Sal Mountains. It is a gem of a resource.

Here is a small sampling of comments that mention our watersheds from the second round of letters for the Public Lands Initiative process:

Greg Childs wrote: “I also am a resident of Castle Valley, and rely on the aquifer beneath me as my sole source of water. Protecting this watershed and Moab’s watershed by designating proposed wilderness in the La Sal Mountains would be, I would consider, a duty of the council. I see little evidence so far that the council has taken on this task, but there is still time to remedy this omission.”

Jane Butter commented: “[W]ater in the Southwest is our most precious asset and we need to protect it. This is a value that all of your constituents share, and you need to take another look at including Forest Service lands in your proposal.”

And Bill Hedden, writing for the Grand Canyon Trust, said: “Certainty is a key concept in the Initiative, and if Grand County refuses to propose Forest Service lands for wilderness designation, pressure for more wilderness from county residents and conservation groups will continue, and this Council could be remembered as one who lost a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect Moab’s and Castle Valley’s watersheds for future generations”

The Public Lands Initiative is an opportunity for the Grand County Council to make it known that a bottom line for the county is protection for the watersheds for Moab and Castle Valley. The council could take a stand that these watersheds are off-limits to development, or at a minimum, to any development that could threaten these sources of pristine water.

Inconceivably, however, none of proposed options put forth by the Grand County Council-appointed subcommittee offer much in the way of protection for the county’s watershed.

Why no proposal that provides protection for our entire watersheds? Isn’t the water generated from these watersheds the single most essential resource that allows people to live in this area?

It is not unprecedented for government to protect the watersheds of Utah communities. In the early 1900s our area and others in Utah turned to the Forest Service and forest preserves as ways to protect watersheds. Salt Lake City has stepped up to its responsibilities by proposing and supporting wilderness designations to protect its culinary watersheds in the Wasatch canyons adjacent to the city.

Our government officials can take a similar stand, and the Public Lands Initiative is a vehicle for doing this. If not wilderness, what other designations will our county council propose? It seems inconceivable that they will simply ignore an issue of such importance to the survival of our communities.

Am I and others to interpret our county council’s not asking for the protection of our watersheds in the Public Lands Initiative process to mean that the council does not have a majority of members who understand the fragile nature of their own watershed and its provision of water?

The bottom line is that any plans/suggestions submitted by Grand County to Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative should include strong protections for our watershed from the La Sal Mountains. If county council members do not actively pursue protection for our watersheds, whom do they feel they are representing?

Bob O’Brien lives in Castle Valley. He is on the Board of Canyonlands Watershed Council and is President of the Board of Moab Solutions.

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