World Resource Institute

Salt Lake City, United States

Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities is collaborating with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache Forest Service and Cities4Forests to improve forest health and ensure safe drinking water.

“Salt Lake City is a hub for outdoor adventure, but our recreational economy is only as healthy as our forests. My '4,000 Trees Initiative' is a prime example of how we are investing today in restoring our forests in the city and surrounding natural lands. This public-private initiative has already resulted in the planting of 1,000 trees in our city’s most economically impacted neighborhoods, which contributes to cleaner air, combats climate change and supports greater equity in our community. Maintaining and restoring forests in our nearby canyon watershed builds resiliency against wildfire and reinforces our commitment to clean water and protecting public health. I fully embrace the Cities4Forests Call to Action and urge my fellow mayors worldwide to invest in forests for a healthier planet.”

Erin Mendenhall, Mayor, Salt Lake City, United States

Success Story

The City of Salt Lake in the United States abuts the beautiful Uinta-Wasatch-Cache (UWC) National Forest — home to four world-class ski resorts, abundant hiking and biking trails, granite peaks for climbing, fishing streams and more. Over five million people recreate year-round in the watershed, boosting the economy while straining the natural resources. The forest also provides nearly 60 percent of drinking water to 350,000 residents in the valley below. Projections of longer, more intense droughts, paired with existing high fuel loads in forests due to decades of fire suppression, leaves Utah’s forests at great risk for catastrophic wildfire that can have rippling economic, environmental and social damages. For instance, catastrophic forest fires can cause more unpredictable water flow rates, higher sediment and debris loads and changes in water chemistry, risking existing water, electric, road and property infrastructure.

In the wake of the 2018 Dollar Ridge Fire, local water became 100 times more turbid (thick with suspended particles), causing Utah’s Duchesne Valley Water Treatment Plant to install an unplanned $16 million sedimentation treatment process in order to manage drinking water quality. To avoid the disastrous economic, social and environmental consequences of a catastrophic forest fire, the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities is working in partnership with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache Forest Service and Cities4Forests to improve forest health and reduce fuel-loading to safe-guard drinking water quality. Through this exploration, partners are bridging jurisdictional divides, stretching limited public funds further by aligning work streams and capital planning projects to increase the impact of the collective investment. Given the possibility of a catastrophic wildfire, which would increase air particulate matter, weakening respiratory systems (increasing vulnerability to COVID-19), force evacuations (making social distancing challenging) and disrupt or destroy essential service infrastructure, there has never been a more urgent need to improve forest health and reduce fuel loading.

City image by Brent Pace / Unsplash