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What is a Watershed? Why should it be protected and how you can get involved.

Written by our Communications Manager, Ellie Harrigan

One of the biggest drivers behind Friends of Alta’s mission is watershed protection. Acquiring land for conservation, promoting environmental education programs, conducting stewardship efforts and partnering with the Town of Alta and other organizations are some of the ways we work to help defend our precious watershed areas.

What is a Watershed and Why is it Important?

A watershed is an area of land that collects and channels water that comes from rainfall and snowmelt and releases it into creeks, streams, and rivers. Eventually this water outflows to larger bodies of water. As the water flows downward from the higher creeks and rivers they can pick up pollutants, which can have negative impacts on the ecology of the watershed as well as the larger bodies of water where it collects, such as reservoirs, bays, and oceans. The Wasatch Mountains, which lie east of Salt Lake City, are home to some of the cleanest sources of water within the United States ( The lakes and streams that are encompassed in this watershed are important to people’s everyday lives because they provide up to 60% of the drinking water (around 360,000 people) that live within Salt Lake City, Cottonwood Heights, Holladay, Millcreek, Murray, Midvale, and Sandy.


Why should it be protected?

With the watershed serving up to approximately 360,000 people it is pertinent that it remained protected. Since the early 1900’s the protection of the watershed has been a continuous group effort with local leaders working together to raise awareness to keep the watershed clean. As awareness rose advocates from Salt Lake City called for its protection and by 1904 the Salt Lake Forest Reserve was established ( This reserve placed lands under the protection of the U.S. Forest Service safeguarding them from being mined or grazed on in order to keep our drinking water clean and pure. Now, in the present day the watersheds of Parleys Canyon, City Creek Canyon, and the Cottonwood Canyons are protected by our local communities, residents of the canyons, nonprofit and government organizations through stewardship, environmental education, and restoration projects. Now, more than ever it is important to work together to keep our watershed protected from overdevelopment and any unnecessary land use that will threaten the fragile ecology of this watershed.

How to take part in protecting the Watershed

Stay on designated trails when hiking or recreating in the canyons it is important to stay on designated trails put in place by hard working trail organizations. These trails are specifically mapped out in order to mitigate damage to the fragile alpine flora and fauna, while also mitigating the effects of erosion and flooding which occur each year when the snowpack melts and drains into our watershed.

Only use designated bathroom facilities. By using designated facilities around the trailhead it can reduce the potential damage of improper human waste disposal which can lead to water pollution, spread of disease, decreased rate of waste decomposing, and other people or wildlife finding your waste.

Do not litter. Always pack out your trash, and please pick-up any trash that you may find while out recreating.

Dogs and other domesticated animals are not allowed in the watershed areas. You can find more information on where your dog is allowed and off-leash at

Read all trail signs and posted guidelines. You can find information about camping and trail closures on the U.S. Forest Service website.

Stay out of the water. This includes swimming, cleaning dishes, and washing clothing.

By following these simple guidelines you can help take part in keeping our watershed clean. If you are interested in getting more involved you can check out our calendar page with upcoming events and for more information on the watershed you can check out our watershed video:

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