Tom Smart, Deseret News
WASHINGTON — Utah is among a dozen states across the country that flunked an exam gauging recognition of climate change, its impacts on water and how well policies and plans are equipped to meet those challenges.
"Ready or Not: An Evaluation of State Climate and Water Preparedness Planning," was released Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a state-by-state look at how much policymakers have adopted and implemented strategies related to water supply and climate change.
The Utah Governor's Office dismissed the organization's findings, with spokeswoman Ally Isom asserting the analysis is "full of generalized planning jargon, which, frankly, doesn't stack up against Utah's serious state and local water planning efforts."
Isom added that the state has been effectively managing its water resources for 165 years, and it will continue to do so.
"We do not need a New York City-based organization to tell Utah — based on their ideological agenda — that we are not taking steps to address our water 'vulnerabilities.'"
Only nine states — California and New York among them — scored top marks while better than half of the states, 29, landed in the lowest categories for doing very little, or practically nothing at all, to deal with what the group says is a looming problem.
"Each state is vulnerable," said Steve Fleischli, director of the organization's water and climate program, in a teleconference outlining the report. "Some states may suffer a curse of too much water, or a curse of too little water."
Fleischli said the report was issued to urge policymakers in the those states that lag to follow the lead of the best performers.
"This is a national call to action, not a call to alarm" he said.
Utah, which the report said will face the dual climate change challenges of adequate water supplies and extreme weather events such as dust storms, was dinged in particular because of public policy positions like its November withdrawal from the Western Climate Initiative and the 2010 passage by the Utah Legislature of joint resolutions asserting climate change was not happening.
In addition, the report said Utah is doing very little to address greenhouse gas pollution, and failing to adopt any "significant measures" aimed at its reduction.
The state, too, directs the majority of its water conservation strategies toward municipal and industrial sectors, placing too little emphasis on the agricultural community, which according to 2005 figures used 83 percent of the freshwater withdrawn statewide.
Fleischli noted that states with failing grades may have water conservation plans in place — like Utah — but those states failed to incorporate climate change as part of its overall strategy.
But Isom said the state's voluntary "Slow The Flow" campaign has led to a nearly 20 percent reduction in per-capita water use, which she described as a significant result.
The report, too, warns that Utah should not plan on the Colorado River as a "reliable source of water to sustain future growth," and the state, unlike its neighbor Colorado, has not taken any concrete steps action to analyze climate change impacts to the river.
Isom countered that water plans crafted by state agencies account for weather, population growth and shifts in use and demand.
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