SALT LAKE CITY — The wet winter was followed by an even wetter spring. Last Wednesday it snowed (snowed!). Utah is awash in H2O.
So out at the offices of the Utah Division of Water Resources, why aren’t Josh Palmer and Faye Rutishauser acting like we just won the lottery?
Well, because we haven’t.
Some people wax passionate about politics, or movies, or technology, or whether the Jazz can hang onto Gordon Hayward. For Josh and Faye, it’s water.
“We’re water geeks. Oh my gosh, yes,” they say in unison.
And as water geeks in Utah, they are aware of the fact that, as Faye succinctly puts it: “We always need more water than we have.”
Other than Nevada, no state in the country gets less precipitation every year than Utah. We’re No. 49. On a good year, we get 15 or 16 inches of water; on a great year, as much as 20; on a bad year, less than 10. Our average is 12. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama get that much in two months.
This year we’re cruising along at a 20-inch clip. That’s terrific news for the short term but can prove counterproductive for the long haul if we start acting like we’re Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Because, as Josh and Faye are quick to remind, prosperity can quickly lead to squandering, which can quickly lead to nonprosperity.
Spend like there’s no tomorrow, the next thing you know there’s no tomorrow.
The problem is it’s just so easy to get complacent when the reservoirs are filling, the runoff is raging, and you’re piling up sandbags on the riverbanks.
But the cold hard truth is that it’s not going to last. It never does. Utah was, is and will remain a desert — and history has shown over and over again that the good water years tend to be followed by several drier years.
“The engineers out here call it the Utah average: one good year, five years of drought,” says Josh.
Waterwise, we’re like the ballplayer who hits .400 one season and .200 for the next five.
This is where Josh and Faye step in and talk about the importance of saving, not spending. When the subject is water, the time to set up a rainy day fund is on a rainy day.
Officially, Josh is the Utah Division of Water Resources section manager over water efficiency, education and engagement, while Faye is the division’s conservation coordinator.
Unofficially, they’re Utah’s “water parents.”
“But we’re the cool parents,” they contend, “the ones all the kids want to talk to.”
They have a point. They’re both young, they wear millennial chic, they talk in ALL CAPS, they tweet, Snapchat and Facebook, and they have a good time making fun of themselves for being so incredibly nuts about water.
“We’re not normal, let’s say that,” they agree, and then add, “but this is so important!”
Both were in the private sector before choosing to work for the state in water conservation, drawn there not by salary but because they each “caught the water bug.”
“Once you catch it, then the other things you’re doing don’t taste as good,” says Josh.
Their goal is to get every Utahn as passionate about conserving water as they are.
Use it, appreciate it, enjoy it, but don’t abuse it.
Don’t overwater your lawn, do fix your leaky pipes, do landscape with plants conducive to the Utah climate, do take shorter showers, do place full loads of laundry in the washing machine before you turn it on — the list goes on and on, as detailed on the divisions’s websites slowtheflow.org and conservewater.utah.gov, and on Facebook at conserveutahwater and Twitter at UtahSavesH2O.
“We need to change behavior or our grandkids won’t enjoy what we enjoy,” says Faye.
“Having a great water year like we’re having right now is a great opportunity,” says Josh. “It’s wonderful that we have it, but what we do with it is what counts. The benefit is up to us.”
Our parents have spoken.