Summit County Council Ponders How To Fund Healthy Watershed
The Summit County Council is looking at a massive and multi-faceted funding effort to help preserve watersheds in the county.
Deputy County Manager Janna Young says the county’s contribution could come in the form of a tax increase, or fees. But the so-called “Resilience Fund” would also be supported by federal, state and regional dollars, as well as private contributions.
The county council is meeting Wednesday at the Ledges Event Center in Coalville, and people can attend in person or virtually. At about 3 p.m. the council will discuss the Public Lands Resilience Fund.
Deputy County Manager Janna Young said the purpose of the program is to help the watersheds cope with wildfires. She said that’s important, as the headwaters of five major river systems are located within Summit County.
“These watersheds provide critical drinking and irrigation water, not just to Summit County, but also to our downstream communities. What threatens those water systems is the risk of catastrophic wildfire. So what we’re talking about here is when there is a fire, during active burning you get ash and sediment that fall into the rivers. And then after the fire is over, there’s inevitable flooding that then brings in debris and sediment into the reservoirs, making that water virtually undrinkable or very expensive to clean, if possible.”
The council will consider how the county can contribute to a Resilience Fund, that will pay for projects on the most vulnerable portions of the watershed.
“Tomorrow’s discussion with the council is to share three funding options for the county’s annual contribution to the Resilience Fund that were studied and recommended by a subcommittee that included two of the council members. And those options are either a property tax increase, to be considered during Truth in Taxation, which is a process the council will likely go through this October. Another option is a fee that we would tack onto building permits. Or the third option is a brand new resilience fee that would be paid by all property owners in the county.”
Since the early part of 2020, the county has worked with the U.S. Forest Service to find some innovative financing models.
Young said the structure is complicated. A $10 million endowment is just part of it.
“That $10 million figure would be our endowment fund, that would be used for re-entry or treatments that you have to maintain after they’ve initially been done because inevitably, growth and fuels grow back. And we’re looking about at a $2 million annual contribution commitment from the county. But then the primary funds, the capital fund, would have to be much higher than the $10 million dollars. This type of work is very expensive. Currently the cost of treatment per acre is around $1200-1600. And the treatment area we’re looking at, minimum is around 74,000 acres. So we’re looking at, for initial treatments, around $89 million to $118 million plus.”
She said the county is hoping to use its contribution to leverage funding from other partners. Young said the county has applied for a state and a federal grant, of $300,000 each; it’s gotten commitments from the Weber Basin Water District and the state Division of Natural Resources Shared Stewardship program; and it will seek philanthropic contributions and maybe even foreign investments.