Salt Lake Chamber to organize water conservation committee, draws ire of advocate group
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A newly released report is sparking criticism from a local environmental advocacy organization.
“Utah’s Water-Dependent Economy,” a study commissioned by the Salt Lake Chamber, states that ensuring the long-term viability of existing water resources and developing new ones would have critical economic implications statewide.
The report indicated that more than $32 billion would be required over the next several decades to provide adequately for new water demand, along with repair and replacement of existing facilities.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday in downtown Salt Lake City, Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said the soon-to-be-formed committee would focus its efforts on best practices for business in water conservation and management, as well as reviewing current and future infrastructure needs.
“Water management and water policy is a complex issue,” Beattie said. “Despite this complexity, we cannot ignore the fact that it touches every sector of our economy and impacts our regional and global competitiveness. We must strike a thoughtful balance between managing our limited supply and maintaining economic interests.”
Meanwhile, the Utah Rivers Council called the report an attempt to “scare Utahns” into raising billions of dollars in new taxes and public debt.
“This spending fantasy would raise water rates, property taxes and impact fees,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.
Utah's urban population uses less than 15 percent of the state’s annual water consumption, with agriculture responsible for the other 85 percent, Frankel said.
"It is an insult to try and dupe Utahns into ($32 billion) in debt with some flashy marketing," he said. "These water districts have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on propaganda for boondoggles like the Lake Powell Pipeline, but they have no way of showing they can repay this debt without draconian increases in water rates, impact fees and property taxes.”
With Utah’s population expected to grow from 2.9 million in 2013 to 6 million in 2060, and the corresponding growth in water demand of 749,000 acre-feet, substantial new water supplies will be needed to sustain the Utah’s population, economy and well-established high quality of life, explained Richard Bay, general manager and chief executive officer of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.
Estimated costs of this additional water supply and infrastructure are $14.7 billion, with repair and replacement costs of existing infrastructure estimated at $17.9 billion, Bay said.
Another report, "Roadmap of Utah’s Future Water Development and Infrastructure," suggested the state would yield roughly the same amount of economic activity from every new acre-foot of water as it does from each current acre-foot of water. A $14 billion investment would create material economic impacts, including the support of 930,000 new jobs, $93 billion in incremental economic output and an additional $71 billion in personal incomes, Bay explained.
“This is going to be a tough challenge,” he said. “(It is) one that we’ll have to address in a teamwork fashion.”
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