Salt Lake City is the home of conversation regarding Utah's hottest environmental topic: water conservation. Utah is the second-driest state year round, but the water use is wasteful at best. Not only are Lake Mead and Lake Powell less than half full, but recently, one of the Benchland Irrigation Water District's reservoirs was drained of twenty-five million gallons of water. Watering restrictions were placed on the residents, but regardless, the bad habits of religious lawn watering are hard to break. Four hundred fines were handed out the first weekend of watering restrictions and it only inspired angry responses, including threats of lawsuits against the district and even vengeful all-night watering. Several water solutions being discussed in Salt Lake City regarding how to save water in Utah include water banking, bills that require analysis of water reduction, and metering. This could apply to private citizen in their home or a businessman such as a Utah landscaper who uses water to make his product.
The majority of water used in Utah is for agricultural purposes, totaling around 80%. In order to keep water in the waterways that fill downstream reservoirs, Senator Jani Iwamoto is advocating a concept known as water banking. This means that the farmers will be encouraged to slow or momentarily terminate use when not necessary, without losing their rights to the water. This is a solution because Utah is considered a "use it or lose it" state, which means that water rights can be taken away if they are not being used after a certain amount of time. However, water banking is currently being experimented with on the Provo River and in Cache Valley and the concern is that farmers are forfeiting future water because someone else may take it in the meantime. Water banking is also on Governor Gary Herbert's radar, as his water strategist team wants to create a system that allows water to be rented out to those who do not have enough water. The rented water is the water not being used by the farmers, or in other words, the water that is in the "bank."
Bills Regarding Water Usage
The water usage goal is 175 gallons used per day which is 40% less than the 295 gallons reportedly used in 2000. House Bill 143 is a bill requiring districts to analyze their water usage and determine how they can cut back and what expenses are incurred when they exceed their target usage. The bill does not, however, require them to actually reach those goals. If the goal was reached though, it could avoid the need for water diversions of Bear River and Lake Powell, saving the state at least $2 billion, not to mention the environmental impact it would have on the surrounding areas.
The water conservation solution being discussed is water metering. This would keep a close eye on individual resident water use and residents would be fined for going over their allotted use amount. To put things in perspective, Utah residents use an estimated 115,000 acre-feet (there is 326,000 gallons of water in one acre-foot) a year of non-potable water. Metering has the potential to reduce that number by 40%, but at the expense of tens of millions of dollars. Each resident would need a meter installed, costing roughly $1000 each, in addition to the costs of checking meters and billing residents.
Overall, how to save water in Utah is an ongoing conversation being had by lawmakers and if the issue is not resolved soon, the state could be in trouble. At this point, creating solutions that are cost-effective and resident-approved are difficult but necessary.
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