Summit Land Conservancy’s $10 million federal grant aims to help protect rivers
The federal government has awarded the Summit Land Conservancy nearly $10 million to pursue projects to protect the headwaters of the Weber and Provo rivers in Summit County.
The conservancy received the notice in mid-April and its executive director, Cheryl Fox, said the application process took months and involved local partners that indicated what projects they would accomplish if they were to receive the grant.
“We have to bring projects to the table that have other funding as well,” Fox explained. “That’s the powerful part of this thing — money gets leveraged.”
Fox said the money will go directly to conservation work, and now that the $9.4 million grant has been awarded, partners will go to work detailing projects they will pursue over the next five years.
One example Fox cited is a project from Trout Unlimited, which partnered with the conservancy on the application. The plan is for the stream conservation nonprofit to improve the trout habitat by removing barriers that impede the flow of rivers. That has the ancillary benefit of improving the habitats of other creatures, Fox said, like birds, bugs and humans.
The projects fall under the conservancy’s Utah Headwaters Initiative, which seeks to protect the sources of drinking water for millions of Utahns.
“All of these rivers rise in Summit County and the Wasatch Front drinks them,” Fox said. “What we do in the headwaters impacts the quality of the water downstream.”
According to a press release announcing the grant, the money will be used to improve aquatic habitats, preserve and enhance adjacent agricultural lands while documenting the carbon sequestration occurring there and to connect the public to these resources.
Kate Sattelmeier is the nonprofit’s conservation director and counsel. She said the most exciting aspect of the grant is the flexibility to protect lands that aren’t eligible for the funding sources the conservancy usually uses for private land conservation easements.
“It’s the flexibility of it — our scope to really leverage the money and do all that we can, whereas the traditional things that we do, we just kind of have to do one project, one at a time,” Sattelmeier said.
Fox said the large grant helps the nonprofit pursue a cause that can seem to be an uphill battle.
“Conservation is what usually does not happen,” Fox said. “Our systems are not set up to really promote conservation — they’re set up to fund subdivisions. Banking systems know how to do it, planning commissions know how to do it. Conservation is a much more unusual outcome.”
The grant money was allocated in the 2018 Farm Bill and Fox said it is not taking away from other federal priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the Summit Land Conservancy’s eight employees.
Fox said the staff was still working but that many have family members who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic.
“We’re not inured to it,” Fox said. “You just see the little bits of good news — I think we need some of that. And I hope people feel like this is a little bit of good news.”
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