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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Xeriscaping is seen outside the George S. Eccles Student Life Center at the University of Utah on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. Xeriscaping helps the U. reduce its water consumption.

SALT LAKE CITY — Two distinctly different pictures emerge in Utah over water supplies depending on where you live in the state, according to new research released Wednesday by the Utah Foundation.

Southern Utah residents are more likely to place greater importance on developing infrastructure than their northern Utah counterparts and also have greater concerns over water supply and water quality than more urbanized populations.

"Urban Utahns tend to be more in agreement with conservation practices rather than placing more emphasis on the need for infrastructure," said Mallory Bateman, a research analyst with the foundation.

"That likely speaks to the quality of infrastructure that is already in place along the Wasatch Front and it being built out rather than a rural Utah, where there is a larger need to put in the infrastructure to get water to people," she said.

The Utah Priorities Project brief on water supply and quality shows that water increased its importance as a priority, moving into the No. 6 spot this year compared with its 11th-place ranking in both 2010 and 2012.

Mallory said she suspects the prolonged devastation of the California drought as well as the massive mess created by the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015 helped shaped Utahns' priorities.

Utahns are also placing an increased emphasis on the need to conserve water over investing millions in new infrastructure projects, according to Bateman's research.

Just over 40 percent of respondents to the priorities project survey agreed with the assertion that the state should focus on water conservation measures rather than building new infrastructure. Less than a quarter of the respondents disagreed, and the rest were neutral.

While only 11 percent of the state's overall consumption is residential use, Utah's water resources agency and the governor's office are highlighting the need for wiser water practices.

The Utah Division of Water Resources launched H2Oath in May, encouraging residents and big water users to take a pledge to curtail consumption. Some of the biggest water users, such as the University of Utah, is on board, as well as groups like Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy. The governor's office has a goal for the state to achieve a 25 percent savings in water use by 2025.

Critics of big infrastructure projects such as the Lake Powell pipeline planned for the St. George area and the Bear River development project say the state has been foolhardy in its pursuit of those big-ticket items to plan for future growth.

The Utah Rivers Council, as an example, has repeatedly said the state does not have a water scarcity problem but rather a water management problem.

The Utah Foundation's research found that when it comes to concerns over Utah's growing population, a majority of people singled out infrastructure like water supplies and roads over education and environmental impacts.

Ideologically, conservatives were more likely to pick infrastructure as a top priority, as opposed to those who identified as liberals. That group selected education.

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