Amy Roberts: The trickle-down effect
If you’ve spent any amount of time biking along the Rail Trail, or walking on the path bordering City Park, or perhaps hiking up Daly Canyon, at least in the past eight years or so, you’ve likely reveled in the soothing joy of a babbling mountain stream. Those who frequent any part of the stretch between Daly Avenue and Prospector almost assuredly have paused to take in the sight of a moose and her calf cooling off in the creek, or a pair of sandhill cranes hovering over their chick, or a beaver busily building its den, or a bald eagle skimming the water with its talons to snag a fish. And even if you haven’t marveled at such wonders, at the very least, you’ve benefited from what else you haven’t observed — the manky smell of standing water, an infestation of biting and disease-carrying insects, and dehydrated and displaced wildlife.
Unfortunately, we might need to double down on the nose plugs and DEET, because these unpleasantries are likely to be a reality soon. It looks like the tap is going to be turned off.
In 2013, members of the then-City Council made a deal with a bunch of federal agencies, including the EPA, and agreed to reduce the creek’s flow by 2023 and divert the stream to the 3Kings Water Treatment Plant where it will be treated and used for culinary water. A year later, the Judge Tunnel Pipeline was completed to fulfill this water-mitigation promise, which was paid for with federal funds. Essentially, a contract was signed, and a check was cashed.
In a town with a mining past, a drought present and an overly developed future, water rights are exceptionally complex, but the consequences of not thinking this through might be catastrophic.
First, there’s the obvious impact to the wildlife that depend on the stream year-round, especially as other water sources disappear. Migratory birds and a number of federally protected species inhabit the wetlands off the Rail Trail. Moose, deer, coyote, fox, bobcats, mountain lions, pelicans, geese, ducks, fish, birds of prey and dozens more animals will not survive if their streaming service is switched off. The summers are hotter and drier now than they were in 2013, when the stream was seasonal. Back then, when the well ran dry, there were other water sources for wildlife and far fewer homes and businesses demanding more than their fair share. It’s also realistic to ask if an eight-year-old plan is still applicable today. If we’ve learned anything over the past 18 months, it’s that science evolves. Are the toxin levels still the same now as they were nearly an unfiltered decade ago? Where are the recent test results?
Aside from this, has anyone bothered to look downstream? What happens when the water is rerouted to the plant and swarms of mosquitoes claim squatting rights in the dried-up wetlands? Are we going to put more chemicals in the groundwater to control the insect population or just replace COVID with West Nile?
According to a recent staff report, alternatives to the diversion plan are limited and expensive.
The only option staffers could come up with is adding water from other city sources to the creek, which they estimate will cost about $25 million — though the report didn’t include any actual bids or itemized estimates. Just a number high enough to make pursuing it seem unreasonable.
Perhaps we could all tap into our imaginations and look at other alternatives like building moratoriums, increased water rates, making sure the faucets at city-owned facilities don’t drip or not watering every blade of grass of the golf course three times a day. At the very least, someone should ask the federal government for a mulligan on this deal.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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