Rep. Jim Matheson has a goal to protect critical watershed in the Wasatch canyons above the Salt Lake Valley, and to that end has resurrected wilderness-designation legislation that ignited intense debate in 2010.
The new version, largely unchanged from two years ago, would create a Grandeur Peak wilderness area of 26,000 acres, also expanding existing wilderness protection for Mount Olympus, Twin Peaks and Lone Peak.
The legislation has a provision that would allow helicopter skiing in an additional 10,000 acres that would be designated as a "special management area," and it would allow for avalanche control above the town and resort of Alta.
Matheson, D-Utah, has worked to resolve a disagreement between backcountry skiers and Snowbird resort's proposed expansion into White Pine Canyon. It also provides access to maintain private water supplies, and Matheson says it "clarifies management objectives" to address concerns.
The Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 4267) represents the first major Wasatch Front watershed protection effort since the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984. The sensitive Wasatch canyons watershed produces the best quality water available to communities along the Front.
As the population of the Salt Lake Valley continues to swell the Wasatch Front is expected to grow by 1.4 million people over the coming 30 years this source of relatively clean water will become even more valuable. The alternatives to supply the burgeoning population would be costly recycling of water and extreme conservation measures.
If the pristine forest lands were polluted by expanded development in the canyons, these beautiful and valuable watersheds would be gone forever.
To his credit, Matheson came up with the bill through an inclusive process with many of the stakeholders: local officials, environmental conservation groups, business interests and outdoor recreation advocates. The majority support Matheson's bill.
It's interesting that while Matheson is introducing his bill in Congress, a Salt Lake County-appointed committee is working to revise the ordinance that outlines land uses in the canyons.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker emphasized at a symposium to kick off the revision that watershed protection must be the top priority for the Wasatch canyons.
Matheson's wilderness proposal would help provide that protection.