Opinion: What [#Utah] State Water Strategy got right … and wrong — @AmeliaNuding

Lake Powell pipeline map via the City of St. George.

Here’s a guest column from Amelia Nuding that’s running in The Spectrum:

The new State Water Strategy has important implications for St. George as well as all of Utah’s public health, economy and environment. Utah’s population is expected to nearly double over the next 50 years, and the way water is managed will impact the future we create.

The State Water Strategy, released July 19 by the Water Strategy Advisory Team, is a significant step in addressing this critical issue, and offers many sound and actionable strategies that are important for St. George, as well as the rest of the state.

The strategy’s focus on water conservation and better data management are spot-on, laying the foundation for affordable, responsible stewardship of Utah’s most precious natural resource. Being increasingly efficient with every drop of water in homes and businesses is absolutely necessary.

Agriculture also has a role to play in our water future, as over 80 percent of Utah’s water is used for agriculture. The State Water Strategy gets it right again by committing to maintain a robust agricultural economy while also exploring ways to facilitate the voluntary transfer of water from agriculture to other users.

However, there is a major cart-before-the-horse problem with the plan. Two proposed water projects that would tap into the Colorado and Bear rivers — the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Development Project, respectively — received plan support, in spite of the fact that the state acknowledged it does not have the data to justify the projects are needed. Good data should be a prerequisite for any proposed water project, a point which is articulated in the strategy but has yet to be rigorously applied to the Lake Powell Pipeline.

These unnecessary water diversion projects will cost billions of ratepayer and taxpayer dollars, take years to build, and threaten Utah’s recreation-based economy. While planning for the Lake Powell Pipeline is already well underway, it hasn’t been built yet, and it should be held to the same rigorous standards articulated in the strategy, ensuring that:

  • It’s actually needed by St. George and other communities.
  • Adheres to the highest fiscal responsibility standards.
  • Would be a viable, long-term source of water.

There is still progress yet to be made in achieving full and efficient use of existing water supplies, through conservation and reuse and purchasing water from irrigators. Cheaper and safer water management alternatives should be utilized first, so that St. George residents and other Utah citizens who would be footing the bill know their water is being managed well.

It is up to state policymakers, water utilities, and every individual to make sure we are good stewards of our water. The good news is there are literally dozens of cost-effective water-saving measures that can be implemented to reduce water waste without sacrificing our quality of life.

As a first step, all water providers should install water meters to measure water used on landscapes — because you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Second, homes and businesses can install smart irrigation controllers to ensure that sprinklers are not watering when it’s raining or snowing, which will greatly reduce water waste while keeping landscapes beautiful.

We’d like to thank Gov. Gary Herbert for convening this advisory team and for the hard work the team put into this very important process. Now is the time to take action on the strategy’s best elements to ensure that the cheapest, fastest, and best water management options for meeting our water future are fully realized before making St. George residents and all Utah taxpayers build unnecessary, expensive projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline.

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