Charity Profile: Utah Rivers Council
In the midst of Utah’s sweltering summer heat, pronghorn antelope don’t stray far from water sources: they must consume 1.2 gallons of water a day in order to survive. That number pales in comparison to the water usage of Utah’s human residents, which averages to around 248 gallons per person, per day. As the state’s thirst continues to swell, Utahns are growing increasingly concerned about their consumption. Thankfully, for more than 20 years, one nonprofit has been spearheading conservation efforts to ensure a wet future lies ahead for the Beehive State. “The Utah Rivers Council was founded because Utah is America’s biggest municipal water user, per person, which is directly impacting our rivers,” says executive director Zach Frankel.
Since the organization was founded in 1995, strain on Utah’s rivers has risen, as farming and ranching account for 85 percent of the state’s water use, and mounting temperatures contribute to decreasing snowpack. As the state emerges from a six-year drought, we aren’t the only species to feel its effects. Rivers may not immediately spring to mind when envisioning Utah’s famed arid and alien-like landscape (it is the second driest state in the nation), but they are the life-force of the state’s bird, amphibian and mammal inhabitants. “Our rivers are life support systems that cradle a myriad of species in the high desert of Utah,” says Frankel. “Since Utah’s rivers provide a habitat for 80 percent of Utah’s wildlife species, how much water we use has a direct impact on the fish and wildlife species we share this planet with.”
This grassroots organization believes we have the power to shape our planet’s future, for the better, beginning at a local level. All donations to Utah Rivers Council are given directly back to the people, in all manner of advocacy programs to educate the public on better water policies, conservation and river protection. They aren’t afraid to take direct action, either. “The Utah Rivers Council drafted Utah’s first water conservation law, the Water Conservation Plan Act in 1998,” Frankel says. “In 2002, we protected the Bear River from two proposed dams that would have inundated 13 miles of working farms and ranches in the Bear River Valley.”
The marshes at the mouth of Bear River, the largest tributary of the Great Salt Lake, serve as a critical oasis for over 250 species of migratory birds. Today, the organization continues to raise awareness about the Bear River Valley’s fragile ecosystem, are tackling the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline and seek to change Utah’s awareness and approach to water use.
With the earth’s temperature picking up faster than anticipated (climbing 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years) and more than 20 percent of the world’s estimated 10,000 species of freshwater fish now endangered or extinct, things could look bleak. Still, the Utah Rivers Council persists. “We are working to ensure that mankind can continue to share this world with the glorious fish and wildlife species that have inherited this world alongside mankind,” says Frankel. “Our entire staff wakes up each day excited about the chance to achieve this goal.”
Story by Emma Mannheimer / Photos courtesy of Utah Rivers Council