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Salt Lake City has made an offer on 108 acres of watershed land in Big Cottonwood Canyon as part of a plan to protect the city's water supply by buying up and setting aside developable land, a water official said Thursday.

The public utilities advisory board recently authorized purchase of the land, north of Solitude Ski Area, from the Public Utilities Department's $1.75 million watershed purchase fund, department Director LeRoy Hooton Jr. said.Negotiators are still discussing terms of the deal. Hooton would not release the city's offer on the land pending those negotiations.

The watershed fund was set up by a water utilities rate hike in 1988. The hike has generated about $250,000 thus far. The department has also borrowed $1.5 million from another department fund to augment the watershed budget.

"One of the purposes of the fund is to be able to take developable land that could create pollution problems and take it out of the market and create public land," Hooton said.

The 108 acres the city hopes to purchase in Big Cottonwood Canyon shows development potential, Hooton said.

The new fund strengthens the city's ability to control development in the Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and Parleys canyons, where most of the city's watershed land is. The city already controls water rights in those area.

In 1981 the city imposed a moratorium on new water sales, thus restricting use of lands that might otherwise support commercial development.

Developers "could go out and buy the land, but if we don't sell the water rights, we've accomplished the same thing as controlling development by purchasing the land," Hooton said.

The water department has also targeted land in Parleys Canyon and the Albion Basin area of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Much of the 185 square miles of watershed land in the nearby canyons is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City, and is thus protected from much development (see chart). But 20 percent of the canyon land is privately owned.

"It's that 20 percent that we'll focus on and try to purchase over the next few years - particularly the sensitive watershed area," he said.


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Watershed owners

l3 Ownership of the 185 square miles of watershed land in Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood and Parleys canyons:

Forest Service 62 percent

Salt Lake City 18 percent

Salt Lake County 1 percent

Privately owned 20 percent