"If you don't have a healthy watershed, you don't have anything."
Richard Stevens. Ephraim, Utah.
Far Country is the web site of Canyonlands Watershed Council, a coalition of citizens from southeast Utah in Grand and San Juan counties. Our first meeting was April 15, 2009 and this website was launched on October 7, 2009.
The Canyonlands Watershed Council works to bring southeastern Utah’s landscapes and communities towards health, self-sufficiency, diversity and resilience.
We are based in Moab, Utah. Though we work throughout southeastern Utah, we curently put most effort into the Moab area, with the hope that the models established here will be applied elsewhere in time. Our projects for the area include:
- PROTECTING GROUNDWATER
The Moab area’s drinking water comes entirely from underground. Now, it is pure and provides more than we need, but has little protection from pollution or lowering rates of inflow. Like much of the West, Moab faces many threats to ground water, such as oil and gas drilling closer to streams and wells, pressure to develop resorts near municipal water sources, and new applications to pump extremely large amounts of water from a still-unmeasured supply.
CWC works to pass effective water source protection zones that control development near public wells, draft good public disclosure laws for chemicals used in oil and gas drilling, contribute important groundwater data to government oil and gas sales and planning, and challenge major new groundwater diversions.
- RESTORING MILL CREEK
Moab is blessed with beautiful, clear-flowing streams supporting lush habitat and favorite local hangouts. However, lower Mill and Pack Creeks both run dry for much of the year, diverted to irrigate crops and gardens. Nonnative species like tamarisk and Russian olive invade Creek canyons, and growing recreational use has damaged water quality, vegetation and opportunities for solitude.
CWC seeks to restore Mill Creek through cooperative efforts with water rights holders, state legal structures, conservation organizations, educators, and state water managers. We disseminate information and help secure funding for efficient water use practices, work to reserve water for viable year-round instream flows, to restore healthy habitat, and to creatively manage recreation impacts.
-Preserving and encouraging permanent agriculture and local production
The Moab and Castle Valley watersheds are currently capable of providing food and goods--vegetable crops, fruit orchards, domestic animals, wild game, wood and fiber--enough to sustain much of their own populations. However, growth threatens that self-sufficiency. Rising populations harden water demand, subdivisions and parking lots replace high-quality agricultural lands, and cheap low-quality goods from big outside business make it hard for local producers to compete.
CWC works to identify important agricultural lands and preserve them from development via ordinances and conservation buying, support local government policies that encourage the local production and sale of food and other goods (such as ensuring that nuisance laws do not penalize small-scale agriculture), and spread public information about permaculture-based approaches to the human partnership with the land.
- PIONEERING WATERSHED PLANNING
The Moab and Castle Valley watersheds and water supplies are managed by well over a dozen different government agencies. This makes is difficult for comprehensive watershed management and regular communication.
CWC continues to be instrumental in the Moab Area Watershed Partnership, which brings together federal, state, local, educational, private and nonprofit entities to cooperatively write a holisitic plan for the Moab and Castle Valley Watersheds. This process started in 2010; the plan is scheduled to be implemented beginning in 2014. Go to www.moabwatersheds.org for more information.
- MAKING LAND AND WATER RELIENT TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The Moab area’s water comes from rainfall and snowpack on our mountains and high mesas. It percolates through soil and rock to our wells and springs, and trickles over the land to flow in streams through the canyons into the valley. Our watershed faces lowered rates of groundwater recharge due to rising temperatures, degraded soil and vegetative health due to problem grazing and fire suppression practices, and pressure on riparian ecosystems as streamflows shrink.
CWC has produced a climate change adaption study that identifies both the likely impacts of climate change on this area, and the best paths we can take to approach resiliency. This study led to our focus on water source and watershed protection, as well as an emphasis on economic localization and self-sufficiency.
- PUBLIC EDUCATION
With busy lives, much of the public is unaware of government actions or upcoming problems that may seriously affect them.
CWC’s “watchdog” efforts, carried out through our extensive network of community volunteers from many professions, help ferret out the important information that the public, government and media might otherwise miss. We work to disseminate this information in diverse ways, from news interviews to public events to our upcoming illustrated watershed kiosk.
Please support your local, homegrown watershed protection efforts. We run on a tiny budget with almost no overhead and a lot of volunteer work. Your support matters. Help us expand our programs to do more good!
We appreciate the definition of a watershed by geographer John Wesley Powell, "that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."
Far Country is an affectionate place name for the geography surrounding the city of Moab, the county seat of Grand County. This landscape is a place of river convergence on a high plateau with sentinel mountains.
Grand County is named after the Grand River which begins at Grand Lake in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado. Prior to a formal name change in 1921, the Colorado River began when the Grand joined the Green River 45 miles south of Moab.
Combined, Grand and San Juan counties are larger in area than the state of Massachusetts.
The valley of Moab (Spanish Valley) shares a common boundary of neighborhood with San Juan County. This sharing includes the watershed of the La Sal Mountains, the tallest mountains of the Colorado Plateau.