water conservation

Commentary: Utah’s water supply needs proper research

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News.

Water. It’s a hot topic in our dry, desert state. It’s been politicized, debated and disputed for countless years. The one thing it hasn’t been: researched. At least not properly. Living beneath the weight of the constant threat of drought, Utah’s residents are no strangers to the fear of a waterless future. A new bill, HB143, seeks to respond to such fears by providing amendments to Utah’s 20-year-old Water Conservation Plan. The most important proposed amendment would require water providers to complete research by May 14 outlining measures to reduce water use to 175 gallons per capita per day.

Currently the average Utahn uses about 242 gallons of water every day, while nearby cities with similar climates, such as Denver, manage an average individual use of 142 gallons of water per day. Though quantified, the 100-gallon difference is difficult for many of us to conceptualize. This is due in part to misleadingly low water costs which have historically enabled high water use, but even greater perhaps, there’s never been a unified initiative to educate us citizens about the impact of our individual habits.

We hear phrases such as “slow the flow” and are urged to use sprinklers at appropriate times, yet the state has never provided us a comprehensive guideline of actions to take. With a population predicted to double in just a few decades, there is a widely-shared fear that our families’ faucets will eventually run dry unless research provides such guidelines.

It’s not as though Utahns haven’t asked for research. In response to our projected growth and generalized fear, the state has proposed several large water projects. One such proposal is the Bear River Development Project, which would divert water from the Bear River for municipal water use along the Wasatch Front.

As a student in the environmental sustainability sciences program at the University of Utah, I had the opportunity to investigate the need for the Bear River Development Project and its potential consequences. After four months of research and interviews, the most significant discovery I made pertained not to what was controversial about the project, but rather what was agreed upon. Both the proponents and opponents of the BRDP agree the most critical hurdle we face in planning for Utah’s water future is the lack of proper research.

It makes sense. How can we possibly make productive plans when we don’t know where we stand today?

It’s evident the only thing regarding our water’s future that anyone is certain of, is uncertainty. As someone who one day hopes to raise my own family in this beautiful state, the consequences of such uncertainty plague my conscience as I consider the next generation. Those same consequences may eventually plague our wallets.

One of the greatest incentives for HB143 is it requires water providers to report not only the cost of reducing per capita water use to 175 gallons, but also the cost of not managing this reduction. While HB143 doesn’t require water providers to achieve this reduction goal, their reports will inevitably shed light on how much we as individuals can save if we reduce our daily use. Unless we act as vocal advocates for this bill, our water costs will steadily increase to fund the state’s large-scale water projects without any basis of research to indicate the resources and costs we can save through individual conservation.

HB143 is the straightforward, bipartisan bill we need to productively plan for our future. Regardless of which side of the aisle you or your legislator sit on, there are three things which one cannot refute: Utah’s population is growing, that population will need water to survive and research must be the first step in any course of action. Asking for more research is the bare minimum, a minimum Utahns both deserve and need, for the sake of our future.

This article originally appeared in the Deseret News. 

Shaela Adams is the communications intern with Alliance for a Better Utah and graduates this spring in Environmental Sustainability Studies from the University of Utah.

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