Wasatch Environmental Update for May 31, 2015
By John Worlock, Member, SOC’s Board of Directors
“Utah’s Water War”
Water scarcity is a problem affecting many areas of the earth. It is predicted that water will be the defining global crisis of the 21st century. Water will replace oil, coal and gas as the crucial commodity restricting growth and development. Many of the water issues are international in scope, leading to fears of future Water Wars.
Here in Utah, we have our own Water War. The combatants are: on one side the state Division of Water Resources and its allies, favoring expensive water-development and delivery projects, and on the other side the Utah Rivers Council and its many allies, advocating conservation and reuse of the water resources we already have.
A significant battle in this war has just been completed, and we are celebrating a setback for the development and delivery faction. The Office of the Legislative Auditor General has released their report on the projections of Utah’s Water Needs, as floated by the Division of Water Resources. It is extremely critical of the reliability of the historical water-use data used by the Division. Information submitted to the Division by local water systems was found to be inaccurate and outdated. Predictions of future water demand were also questioned, as they have been based on a steady diet of 220 gallons per day person, with no adjustment for changing housing patterns and the possible substantial reduction of much landscape irrigation. The auditors questioned the Division of Water Resources lack of interest in water conservation, noting that policy choices such as metering of secondary water and scaled pricing structures for culinary water can encourage conservation. Also they note that water is not normally priced according to its cost, with property taxes and other flat fees making up the difference.
All told, this audit functions as a solid indictment of the state’s ambition to spend many billions of dollars on two unnecessary projects. One would divert Bear River water from the Great Salt Lake, threatening its further shrinkage. Another would bring water from the starving Lake Powell to the lawns of St. George. Let’s hope that the Division of Water Resources and the state Legislature are listening, and changing course.
But, for the moment, Hooray for the Conservationists!