LOGAN — Projects to funnel more usable water into Utah are not enough to keep up with growth, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert told water-conscious students and researchers Monday.

Conservation efforts will need to make up for an estimated 900,000-acre-feet shortfall of water in coming years, Herbert said at the second annual Spring Runoff Conference at Utah State University.

"Our major limiting factor for growth is water. Without the necessary water, this state simply cannot continue to grow at our current rate," Herbert said.

Two water projects are currently underway in the state. One will create a pipeline from Lake Powell to funnel water into southern Utah and the other will build a dam on the Bear River to siphon water through Davis County into the Salt Lake Valley.

Those two projects — estimated at a combined cost of around $812 million — will solve only about half of the projected water shortfall, Herbert said. With estimates from the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget pegged at a 145 percent population increase by 2050, Herbert said the key is continued conservation — even in wet years like this one.

Herbert estimated each Utahn will need to reduce water use by roughly 25 percent to keep up with growing demand.

"It's doable. There's no reason to have alarm if everybody does their part," he said.

Herbert added, however, that the two water projects are critical for keeping up with demand in the long run. He lauded legislators for supporting two bills this session to get construction underway on the Bear River project and to remove the cap on sales tax for water development.

"Though some in Utah claim there's not any place where they can find a drink, battles over liquor laws in the state are nothing over the potential battles with water," he said.

The USU Spring Runoff Conference continues through today, bringing scientists, students and government leaders together to discuss how to meet Utah's water needs. In its second year, the conference is focused on using the Great Salt Lake River Basin as a study to learn lessons for the entire western region.

With topics ranging from aquatic biodiversity of the Great Salt Lake to how groundwater affects climate, the conference hopes to find answers to not only how to conserve water but how to fix damage to existing ecosystems, USU President Stan Albrecht said.

"Water is so critical to what this state is all about," Albrecht said.

Another component of this year's conference is looking at human interaction with Utah's water sources, USU Water Initiative Director David Tarboton said. Social scientists, as well as biologists, need to work with hydrologists to find out how the growing Wasatch Front will change the course and abundance of water, he said.

"I think people get the message effectively in a drought, but to get the message out in the front of people's minds is going to get a lot harder in good water years," he said.

E-mail: estewart@desnews.com