ST. GEORGE – Utah water officials will appear before the State Records Committee Thursday to make their case for withholding information about statewide water usage from a water advocacy group. The group wants the data in order to back up their claims Utah does not need massive and expensive water projects like the Bear River Project or Lake Powell Pipeline.
The Utah Rivers Council is appealing to the committee for access to the Division of Water Resources raw water use data and 2015 water use data summaries, information that was denied after the Utah Rivers Council filed a Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA, request.
“We were pretty shocked to see the division deny us this basic information about water use,” Utah Rivers Council executive director Zach Frankel said.
“The amount of water used per person – GPCD or gallons per capita day – is very common across the country, with hundreds if not thousands of cities providing their constituents with estimates of how much water they use.
Utah Rivers Council believes the data shows that Utah is not running out of water and that the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project are “a waste of money,” Frankel said.
“It’s kinda crazy to deny the Utah public with water use info while simultaneously claiming we are on the verge of running out of water and need to spend billions for new capital projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline.”
However, the Division of Water Resources spokesman Joshua Palmer said the data in question is available online and the division is legally required to have it analyzed by a third party before releasing an official analysis.
“We are not saying ‘no’ to the release of the analysis. We are saying it will be released once the third-party review is complete,” Palmer said.
Raw data on water use in Utah is gathered by the Division of Water Rights and is available here.
“While we recognize there is a lot of interest in this analysis, we have a responsibility to comply with statutory code written by publicly elected officials,” Palmer said.
“We look forward to releasing the full analysis publicly once the third-party review has taken place, and analysis finalized.”
“The water use data analysis is not complete until we comply with this legislative mandate. We anticipate it will be ready later this year,” Palmer said.
The Water Infrastructure Funding Amendments law passed in the 2016 general session of the Utah Legislature requires the third-party review of the information, which Palmer said could reveal inaccuracies. The final analysis of the water use data will be ready for release in the fall, he said.
The Utah Rivers Council submitted a GRAMA request in November asking to see Utah’s water use data so they could check claims that Utah is running out of municipal water and examine the progress of the state’s water conservation advertising campaign, Frankel said.
“Why is it we can see how much electricity or gas Utah uses, but our water use is somehow a secret?” Frankel said.
“This basic information is vital for the public to determine the effectiveness of the $4 million Slow the Flow advertising campaign and whether the $5 billion in proposed tax spending for massive new water projects is justified,” Frankel said. the Utah Rivers Council opposes both the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Development Project.
According to the Utah Rivers Council, Utah has the highest per-person municipal water use in the U.S. – based on information from the U.S. Geological Survey – and has spent $4 million over the last 15 years to encourage people to save water.
In the GRAMA appeal, two reasons were given for the information request.
First, the information has been the focus of heated discussion at the center of $3-4 billion in proposed taxpayer spending by the Division of Water Resources.
“The Utah public and decision-makers should not be kept in the dark about public water use numbers while billions in spending are at stake,” the appeal states.
Secondly, the Division’s use of the information was the subject of a legislative audit in 2015 which criticized the agency’s collection, assimilation and management of this public water use data.
“The audit found that the agency’s data mismanagement was responsible for misinforming the public and decision-makers into believing that costly water projects were essential to Utah’s future,” the audit states. “That is why we want to see this raw water data and the DWRe’s summaries for ourselves.”
The 2015 legislative audit found the Division of Water Resources does not have a “reliable source of local water use data on which to base its projections.” The audit goes on to question the reliability of the division’s 2000 water use study, which was used as a baseline for projecting Utah’s future water needs. The audit further stated:
According to this study, each Utah resident will use, on average, 220 gallons per day through the year 2060. Evidence suggests this number is overstated and that per capita consumption levels will likely decline below 220 gallons per day by 2060. Policy makers can further reduce water demand by requiring metering on all service connections and by promoting pricing structures that encourage conservation.
The audit also said the division understated the estimated future water supply because more water will become available by converting agriculture water for municipal and industrial use than the division projected.
The State Records Committee will consider the the Utah Rivers Council’s GRAMA appeal at a hearing Thursday. The hearing will be held in the Utah State Archives Building in Salt Lake City and is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Utah Rivers Council was founded in 1995 and, according to the group’s website, is a grassroots conservation organization dedicated to the stewardship of Utah’s rivers and promotes sustainable clean water sources for Utah’s people and wildlife.
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