ALTA — Utah's current population is straining water supply and future growth may triple water usage, Gov. John Huntsman Jr. said.

Speaking at a water symposium Wednesday, the governor said he is concerned. His goal is long-term sustainability of water.

Utah residents use the equivalent of 1,000 Olympic-size pools of water per day. With population projections, the need will grow to the equivalent of 2,700 such pools, he said. However, that much water will be hard to get in Utah.

"We need to use water wisely," Huntsman said.

He said residents need to adopt more water-wise landscaping, because more than 50 percent of the available water used is for landscaping. His goal is to reduce water use by 25 percent.

He said conserving water creates an unexpected benefit — a savings of electricity. Water that is not used does not have to be treated, saving treatment costs as well as electricity.

"Thirty percent of energy used is to treat water," said Dennis Strong, director of water resources at the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

By conservation alone, 70 percent of the water saved could go to support growth.

It is not just a Utah issue, but a cross-border concern. He said the Western region of the United States is growing fast and catching up to the cities in the East in terms of population. Phoenix has surpassed the population of Philadelphia to become the fifth-largest city in the U.S.

Huntsman vows to keep as much water in Utah as he can.

"I told Nevada I would not budge an inch with respect to giving up our water," he said. Current Nevada plans to appropriate water along the Utah/Nevada border have generated controversy.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the U.S. Supreme Court likened a drop of water to a drop of gold. It is the lifeblood of the West. He said water is necessary for agriculture and drinking but also to produce energy. Without water to coax oil out of shale, a potentially significant energy resource will be unrealized, he said.

Conservation is important, he said, but many people are oblivious. He said he sometimes forgets to conserve.

"I leave the water on when I brush my teeth," Shurtleff said, a habit he said his wife is trying to break him of.

The most important thing besides conservation is accountability. Shurtleff said when people see others using unauthorized water they should call the Division of Water Resources Enforcement Engineers to initiate possible civil or criminal penalties.


E-mail: lwilde@desnews.com