Unofficial Watershed Week in Utah

Weber River Confluence. Photo by Ben Nadolski, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Weber River Confluence. Photo by Ben Nadolski, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

By Shaun Daniel, Sustainability Resource Center

All living things need water. Indeed, water is arguably the reason there is life on Earth at all—so far the only planet known to host such a beautiful preponderance of dynamic, self-sustaining things.

As Riccardo Petrella writes in The Water Manifesto, “No alternative can substitute for it, and so it is more than a resource: it is a vital asset for every living thing and for the ecosystem as a whole … This explains why the intrinsic finality of water (the way it is conceived and looked upon) must be one based upon solidarity and sustainability.”

Though we should be focused on respecting and conserving water any day of the year, I am considering this next week to be Unofficial Watershed Week along the Wasatch Front. As luck would have it, three interesting conferences—Confluence 2014, the 8th Annual Watershed Symposium, and Rooftop to River—will each focus on various aspects of watershed protection and restoration.

Weber River. Photo by Ben Nadolski, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Weber River. Photo by Ben Nadolski, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Confluence 2014

The Weber River Partnership is holding its inaugural Weber River Symposium, appropriately called Confluence 2014, on Monday. To be held in Ogden, the symposium will tackle some of the challenges and opportunities facing the Weber River and its surrounding watershed.

The event aims to “bring competing interests together to discuss problems and find collaborative solutions,” according to its press release. The gathering will explore such topics as agriculture and irrigation, fish habitat, water quality issues, collaborative watershed management, and impacts from population growth.

Ben Nadolski, river restoration biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and one of the event’s organizers, says, “We want to highlight and strengthen the recent partnerships we’ve built throughout the Weber River watershed and discuss ways that we can move forward—together—into the future.”

The keynote address will be given by Ogden City Mayor Mike Caldwell. Other presenters include state agency leaders and Alan Matheson, senior environmental advisor to Governor Gary Herbert. Visit www.weberconfluence2014.eventbrite.com for the schedule and additional information.

While initial registration has closed, organizers will be accepting day-of registration at the event for $25, payable by check or cash. Meals will not be provided for those registering at the event.

View of the Salt Lake Valley watershed from Grandeur Peak.

8th Annual Watershed Symposium

Starting on Wednesday, Salt Lake County is hosting its 8th annual Watershed Symposium, which runs November 19-20 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. It’s free, but you’ll need to register by Nov. 14 (TODAY).

The symposium will bring together a broad crowd to explore water quality, pollution, and conservation. Among the diverse topics are the Mountain Accord (with a keynote by Laynee Jones), Clean Water Act applications, urban water flows, stormwater management, homelessness along the Jordan River Parkway Trail, an exploration of iUtah (innovative Urban Transitions and Arid-Region Hydrosustainablity), and impacts from climate change and population growth.

As Peter Corroon, mayor of Salt Lake County in 2009, said on the occasion of the creation of a Water Quality Stewardship Plan, “Salt Lake County recognizes the importance of a healthy and viable watershed for safe drinking water, flood conveyance, public safety, outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. What is often overlooked is the economic benefit of a healthy watershed.”

The Salt Lake County Watershed Planning and Restoration Program hosts the symposium each year. Since 1997, The restoration program, which began in 1997, assesses and restores streams and other water resources in the Jordan River sub-basin, plans for stewardship, and conducts environmental education outreach.

You can download a full symposium schedule here (PDF). The Friday field trips after the symposium have proven so popular that they’re overflowing. Thankfully, you can divert your attention to something else that day…

The Jordan River and parkway trail near Riverton, UT.

Rooftop to River

Rounding out the week, the Jordan River Commission, in partnership with the Salt Lake County Watershed Planning and Restoration Program and the University of Utah’s own Ecological Planning Center are hosting a day-long workshop and seminar on “Rooftop to River: Tools for Restoring Watersheds” on Friday, Nov. 21. Students and Jordan River Commission members can register at a discounted rate. Lunch is included.

Participants in the training will review some of the tools of watershed restoration, assess stormwater plans at the training site, engage in a design exercise, and consider ways to evaluate a watershed plan. David Hirschman and Bill Stack from the Center for Watershed Protection will facilitate the workshop. (See a PDF of the schedule.)

“It all comes down to hydrology,” says Sarah Hinners, acting director of the Ecological Planning Center and an assistant professor in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning. “Water objectively summarizes and reflects our activities in a watershed and feeds them back to us in the quality of our water and the health of our aquatic ecosystems.”

This past summer, the Jordan River Commission released a mobile website called My Jordan River. The site combines the functionality of a smartphone app with crowd-sourced content to “turn the Jordan River Parkway Trail into a nature center without walls.”

Like each of the events of this Unofficial Watershed Week, the mobile app aims to engage local Utah residents in the watersheds where they live, perhaps first by becoming aware of the issues facing them and then playing an empowered role in acting on the options available to steward a healthy watershed into the future. In such a way we find ourselves, and our actions, reflected in the waters that surround us.

Unnamed stream below Grandeur Peak.

It was John Wesley Powell who defined a watershed as “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

These events of Unofficial Watershed Week present an opportunity to take up that mantle of a community of water here in the arid West, for the truth is that all living things need water, and right now our watersheds need us.

Shaun Daniel is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities and a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center.

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