Water Documenters brings notes from Utah water meetings to the public

Paid documenters will help keep an eye on Utah’s public meetings involving water.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Keith Hambrecht, invasive species coordinator for the state lands division, takes in the view from Fremont Island on the Great Salt Lake on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. The new Water Documenters project will publish notes from public water meetings and have them available for the public.

The Salt Lake Tribune is pleased to announce a new program called Water Documenters that will help publicize what happens in public meetings involving water. The program is aimed at providing better public access to meetings where major decisions are made about a limited Utah resource.

Through partnership with the nonprofit City Bureau and with a grant from the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, The Salt Lake Tribune will hire college student journalists to attend public meetings of water conservancy districts, water task forces, watersheds councils and more. The student journalists will then submit their notes from the meeting, which will then be published for anyone’s viewing on sltrib.com and greatsaltlakenews.org.

The project will be led by Innovation Lab Editor Holly Mullen and Community Engagement Editor Kelly Cannon. College students involved in the project will come from the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, Utah State University and Utah Valley University.

“It was important for us to connect with college student journalists because learning how to effectively cover a public meeting is a valuable skill for journalists to learn,” Cannon said. “In my first job out of college, I covered at least three different public entities that met multiple times a month.”

While City Bureau helps other newsrooms cover civic meetings through their Documenters program, The Salt Lake Tribune wanted to focus on water meetings in Utah.

“We live in one of the driest states in the nation, but also one of the fastest growing,” Mullen said. “As water becomes more scarce, policy makers are tackling that challenge at a grassroots level–often in sparsely attended public meetings. The water documenters will help bring this information to the public.”

The project is anticipated to launch in late September, with the first meeting notes being published near the end of the month. The notes will be available for anyone to read, including other news organizations. The notes will also be available to use for future reporting and articles.