Watershed Councils Act & Implementation
In 2020, the Utah Legislature passed the Watershed Councils Act, (H.B. 166) which authorized and directed the Division of Water Resources to create the Utah Watersheds Council (a state council) and twelve local watershed councils. The intent of the Act is to “develop diverse and balanced stakeholder forums for discussion of water policy and resource issues at watershed and state levels that are not vested with regulatory, infrastructure financing, or enforcement powers or responsibilities.”
What is the purpose of the councils?
Utah Watersheds Council
The Utah Watersheds Council is a state council that is directed to serve as a forum to encourage and facilitate discussion and collaboration by and among the stakeholders relative to the water-related interests of the state and the state’s people and institutions. This state council will facilitate communication and coordination between the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Environmental Quality, and other state and federal agencies in the administration and implementation of water-related activities.
The state council also plays a key role with each of the twelve local watershed councils including the facilitation of the establishment of the local watershed councils and subsequent certification. The state council will also review the proceedings and documents submitted by proposed local watershed councils, to ensure that each local council meets the certification requirements.
The Division of Water Resources and the state council will provide resources and support for the administration of the local councils; consult and seek guidance from local councils; and provide advice to the governor and Legislature on water issues.
The Utah Watersheds Council will provide updates on its activities annually, or as invited, to: the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee; the Legislative Water Development Commission; and the Utah Water Task Force.
Local Watershed Councils
The local watershed councils are created to encourage and facilitate discussion and collaboration by and among the stakeholders relative to the water-related interests of a specific geographic area and it’s people and institutions. In a balance appropriate for the watershed and where feasible, each local watershed council will facilitate communication and coordination amongst the following interests:
- Indian Tribes
- Public Water Suppliers
- Water Planning and Research Institutions
- Water Quality
- Fish and Wildlife
- Water Dependent Habitat and Environments
- Watershed Management
- Mutual Irrigation Companies
- Local sponsors of reclamation projects
The local watershed councils will designate one representative to serve on the Utah Watersheds Council. It is the intent that these local councils be diverse and inclusive of all water interests. The Act directs local watershed councils to draw on local expertise and resources found in universities and other research institutions or in regional, state, and federal agencies. A local watershed council may invite state and federal agencies to name representatives as liaisons to the local council.
The growing stress on our water supplies emphasizes our collective need to obtain necessary information, find paths to cooperation, reduce conflicts, educate a concerned public, support development of wise policy, and plan for our immediate and long-term futures as provided in the Watershed Councils Act. Our Legislature passed the Act in 2020 in part to prepare for times such as this.
What are the boundaries of each watershed council?
The Utah Watersheds Council will encompass the entire state. The 11 local watershed councils will follow the Division of Water Resource’s hydrologic basin map. A twelfth local watershed council for the Great Salt Lake Basin will also be organized.
Local watershed councils:
- Bear River
- Weber River
- Jordan River
- West Desert
- Utah Lake
- Sevier River
- Kanab Creek/Virgin River
- West Colorado
- Southeast Colorado River
- Great Salt Lake
The Great Salt Lake Watershed Council will encompass each of the five watersheds that drain into Great Salt Lake. These five local watershed councils include the Bear River, the Weber River, the Jordan River, the Utah Lake, and the West Desert watershed councils.
Who will be involved?
The Utah Watersheds Council and the twelve local watershed councils will have formal membership (see below). In addition, a council is a public body as defined in the Utah Code 52-4-103 and shall comply with Title 52, Chapter 4, of the Open and Public Meetings Act.
This means that all citizens of Utah are welcome to become involved with a local watershed council! This is in keeping with the intent of the Watershed Councils Act, which is to “develop diverse and balanced stakeholder forums for discussion of water policy and resource issues at watershed and state levels.”
The Utah Watersheds Council
This state council membership includes the following individuals as outlined in the Act:
- Executive director of the Department of Natural Resources
- Executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality
- Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Food
- Director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs
- Utah State University Extension Vice President
- Director of the Division of Emergency Management within the Department of Public Safety
- A representative designated by the Utah Association of Counties
- A representative designated by the Utah League of Cities and Towns
- A representative designated by the Utah Association of Special Districts
- A representative of reclamation projects located in the state selected by the governor from a list of three persons nominated jointly by the local sponsors of reclamation projects located in the state and the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources
- A representative of agricultural interests selected by the governor from a list of three persons nominated jointly by the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Food, the president of the Utah Farm Bureau, and the Utah State University Extension vice president
- A representative of environmental conservation interests selected by the governor from a list of three persons nominated jointly by the executive directors of the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Natural Resources
- A representative of business and industry water interests selected by the governor from a list of three individuals nominated jointly by the Utah Manufacturers Association, Utah Mining Association, and Utah Petroleum Association; and the designated individual selected by a local watershed council
- An attorney who is authorized to practice law in the state, who has recognized expertise in water law, and is selected by the governor from a list of three individuals nominated jointly by the executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, the executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality, and the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Food
- In each watershed area, a local watershed councils will be made up of all water related organizations. This may include: municipalities and local government; agriculture; industry; Indian tribes; public water suppliers; water planning and research institutions; water quality; fish and wildlife; water dependent habitat and environments; watershed management, such as distribution system committees functioning within the watershed; mutual irrigation companies; and local sponsors of reclamation projects. The Local Watershed Councils are not intended to replace any existing organizations.
- Each local watershed council will be a diverse group of people that represent the many interests of the local area.
Where are we in the process of implementation?
During 2021, the implementation team met with over 200 individuals across the state to understand how to implement the Utah Watershed Councils Act and realize its opportunities. The Utah Watersheds Council began meeting in January 2022.
Once the Utah Watersheds Council is up and running, we will begin to create the local watershed councils. It is anticipated that two local watershed councils will be convened by Summer 2022.
The implementation of the Act will be completed by Fall 2024.
How can I be involved?
If you would like to be informed about the Utah Watersheds Council, your local watershed council or, if you have any questions or ideas please contact us. We are here to serve you and help ensure that the watershed councils bring benefit to you and the State of Utah.
As part of the NOWC Insider Webinar Series, on April 26, 2022, Jon A. Souder, Ph.D., Forest Watershed Extension Specialist, Oregon State University presented on the Life Cycles of Watershed Councils
Abstract: Like salmon, watershed councils have life cycles with various stages requiring different “habitats” to be successful. This talk identifies the characteristics of each stage and highlights the behaviors and types of people most attracted to each stage. This linkage of life stage and behavior allows for organizations to build staff and Boards appropriately.
This presentation was developed from a chapter written by Jon Souder in Stream and Watershed Restoration: A Guide to Restoring Riverine Processes and Habitats, First Edition. Philip Roni and Tim Beechie. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.