By: Miles McCoy-Sulentic, Diane Menuz, and Rebecca Lee
Wetlands in the arid Central Basin and Range ecoregion of Utah are scarce but provide important functions such as wildlife habitat, water quality improvement, and recreational and aesthetic values. Field surveys were conducted in 2019 and 2020 to better understand the location, type, condition, and potential function of wetlands in the ecoregion, focusing on the area adjacent to the Great Salt Lake (GSL), the West Desert, and Escalante Desert-Sevier Lake (Sevier Basin) HUC6 watershed. Data from these surveys were combined with data from previous studies in the ecoregion to characterize high quality wetlands by wetland type. Landscape and hydrologic data were also analyzed to understand wetland distribution and trends in surface and groundwater over the last 30 to 60 years. Wetlands in our study area are very vulnerable to the impacts of water diversion, from direct wetland loss in the Sevier Basin to increased invasion by introduced plant species on Great Salt Lake’s drying lakebed. While wetlands in the West Desert have not experienced widespread hydrologic impacts like those seen in other parts of the study area, impacts seen elsewhere should serve as a warning for what could happen if large amounts of new diversions are allowed without accounting for ecological impacts.