SALT LAKE CITY — For anyone who turns on the tap and expects water to come out, there's a new "must read" fresh off the printer for Utah residents to ponder, especially in the nation's second-driest state where the population is projected to double by 2060.
Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday accepted the "Recommended Water Strategy" report produced by his Water Strategy Advisory Team after more than four years of effort, thousands of donated hours, regional listening meetings in eight locations and public input.
Herbert convened the team in 2013, appointing 41 people and charging them with providing a comprehensive look at Utah's challenges with its water resources, and what recommendations need to be on the table as the state looks to ensure a safe, plentiful water supply in the decades to come.
"There's never been in the history of this state an assembled group of water experts with more accumulated experience," said team co-chairman Warren Peterson, noting that the team represented more than 800 years of combined experience in the water arena.
"I would offer that you can't buy what this document provides at any price," Peterson said.
During an event Wednesday at the state Capitol, Herbert said the report does not represent the culmination of the discussion on water, but a starting point.
"This is now a new beginning, a fresh start," he said.
The report offers 93 recommendations in its executive summary, grouped around 11 key questions, including how weather and a changing climate will impact future water supply and demand, and how the state can sustain water use for agriculture in the face competing water demands.
A draft copy of the report was released earlier this summer, and team members dove into incorporating public comment and negotiating over what should stay in and what should be left out.
"We may not have agreed on a whole lot, but obviously we agreed on enough," said Steve Erickson, an advisory team member from the Great Basin Water Network, a conservation organization.
Unlike previous versions, the document presented to Herbert on Wednesday did not include any "minority reports" to indicate areas where there was objectionable dissent.
Peterson said the group was able to immerse itself in the complexities of water policy and practice, but they were "still able to set aside their rhetorical weaponry" to find common ground.
But it wasn't easy.
Tage Flint, another co-chairman, said changes were still being made at 12:35 p.m. last Friday, with a 1 p.m. print deadline looming.
The report includes a number of signficant recommendations, some of which pose a policy shift and would require changes in state law if implemented.
• Modernizing Utah's 1903 prior appropriation doctrine, "first in time, first in right," to refine the "use it or lose it" practice that does not encourage conservation.
• Considering smaller, regional water development efforts to augment water supplies in the face of controversial big-ticket projects like the Lake Powell pipeline or Bear River development.
• Expanding reservoir storage capacity given Utah's cyclical nature with drought and challenges of a changing climate.
• Passing a state law to set up water banking to allow the temporary transfer of water to another user, making it available for municipal, industrial, environmental, agricultural or other uses.
• Establishing basin-level councils to benefit farmers who take measures to conserve regional water supplies, improve in-stream flows and boost water quality.
Herbert said his senior staff will go through the recommendations and begin prioritizing them for implementation.
He stressed that Utah's plan moving forward must incorporate his call for increased transparency and improved accuracy on water use data, accountability and clarity on financing of water projects, and protection of water quality.
"Nothing is off the table," as far as those recommendations in the report, including a drastic overhaul to how Utah prices water, Herbert noted.
"It's time to address it," he said. "Do we have a water pricing system that makes any sense?"4 comments on this story
Flint said the key going forward is to educate the public about the importance of conservation, the critical nature of water delivery systems, and the need for improvement in both arenas.
"Water is largely out of sight, out of mind," he said. "It's tough because it is not sexy. But this state is miles ahead of Flint, Michigan, (where there was a federal disaster declared due to lead-tainted drinking water).
"Water quality should matter to all of us. It's huge. It's everything."