Summer is now in full swing. As the temperatures increase, so do the discussions about the state of Utah’s water. And for good reason. Utah’s population is expected to reach 5.5 million by 2060, putting more pressure on water resources than ever before.
Utah is the second driest state, yet according to the U.S. Geological Survey, it uses the second most amount of water per capita. If we continue with our current water use trajectory, our existing statewide supply of 1,100,000 acre feet will be at capacity in about 30 years — with some basins reaching capacity even earlier.
This synopsis is not meant to sound bleak, but to illustrate the need to plan for the future. The time has come to further improve the way water is used and paid for in the state. This will be a key factor in ensuring Utah’s prosperity for generations to come. If we don’t plan for the state’s projected growth by putting the right systems and practices in place now, the financial and economic repercussions will be costly. Eventually, we’ll all pay.
Water in Utah is currently financed through property taxes, user fees and government subsidies. Creating a model where consumers pay for their water primarily through user fees will help individuals and families make more informed decisions and reap the financial benefits of wise water use. Las Vegas transitioned to a user-fee structure for water and saw promising results, as residents chose to allocate their household budgets to items other than wasteful watering.
Moving to a user-fee model incentivizes residents to be more conscious of things like how often they water their lawns, length of time spent in the shower and the number of loads of laundry they do. When people pay the full cost for a product or service based on level of use, demand is reduced.
While water conservation needs to be a priority, the good news is it does not have to be complicated. Residents can make small changes to make a difference. Studies indicate that many Utahns overwater their lawns by 30 to 200 percent, with users of automatic sprinklers being some of the biggest offenders. If every resident tailored watering to their lawn’s actual need, it would yield great savings.
Those willing to make bigger changes can consider changing landscaping practices to more water-efficient alternatives, such as Localscapes. These water-wise landscapes are beautiful and dramatically decrease water usage. While it requires an initial investment and work up front, once installed it will lead to cost savings and less maintenance.
Resources exist to help Utahns on their quest to conserve. The Division of Water Resources recently launched a program called Utah Water Savers, which offers rebates for families that purchase smart water timers. Smart timers determine when a lawn actually needs to be watered through the collection of environmental data. These kinds of tools help families calibrate their level of water use to their true needs — saving money and water while maintaining a healthy, vibrant landscape.
Conservation and a move to rely more heavily on user fees can help reduce or delay the need for costly water development projects, but they cannot prevent them entirely. And to be blunt, the easiest and least expensive water development projects have already been built.4 comments on this story
Since current water sources will be unable to supply the needs of our children and grandchildren in 30 years, we need to take a hard look at future projects. As new projects are evaluated, we need to ensure current resources are being maximized, those who will use the water source will be the ones paying for it and modes of financing are transparent.
For more than 170 years, Utahns have worked together to thrive in the arid deserts of the Mountain West. Our continued progress in both water development and water conservation have yielded impressive results. We can build on this momentum by committing to do the hard work and make the difficult choices related to water now.