ST. GEORGE – Officials from the Utah Division of Water Resources released state water use data Wednesday as ordered by the Utah State Records Committee in March.
The information was sought by water advocates who believe incorrect information from the division is being used to wrongfully justify large water projects including the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project.
“While we are pleased the division complied with the order, it is unfortunate we had to go all the way to the State Records Committee to find out how much water Utah is using,” Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council, said in a written statement. “Water education and water conservation are in everybody’s best interest.”
Utah Rivers Council is a water advocacy group; it first requested raw water use data and 2015 water use data summaries through a Government Records Access and Management Act request. That request was denied by the division.
However, the advocacy group appealed to the Records Committee in November 2016; the committee ruled in their favor in March.
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 earlier.
During questioning from the records committee, it was revealed that the division maintained a separate database of water use information from other water agencies, Frankel said.
“This was revelatory because, in their defense, the division claimed that the (Utah Rivers) Council’s request had been satisfied through a separate website maintained by another agency,” Frankel said.
“We look forward to carefully analyzing the Division’s data to see for ourselves whether they have complied with the recommendations in the 2015 Legislative Audit.”
The Division of Water Resources had maintained that the data was available online and that the division was legally required to have it analyzed by a third party before releasing it. However, the records committee ruled against them.
“We respect the decision made by the Utah State Records Committee,” Division of Water Resources director Eric Millis said in a written statement.
“We welcome anyone who wants take a look at the draft quality-controlled water use data to do so. We look forward to updating our processes, receiving feedback from the upcoming third-party analysis, and continuing in our mission to plan, conserve, protect and develop Utah’s water resources,” Millis said.
The disputed information was made available to Utah Rivers Council and to the public; it is available on the division’s web page.
Water officials said in a statement that the division “has not, does not, and will not” make changes to water use data for any other reason than correcting provider submission inaccuracies.
“These changes are made with the participation and consent of the water provider which originally submitted the data. Large water project planning processes undergo far more extensive analysis of needs and potential environmental impacts, often requiring NEPA processes.”
Most secondary water use figures are estimates, officials said, because not many Utah secondary systems are metered. Fewer estimations will be needed in the future as more secondary water systems become metered.
The division has always intended to release water use data but wanted to wait for a third-party analysis to clarify any issues with the data and quality control processes, officials said.
Starting with the 2016 data, which is currently being collected, the division will send any potential water use submission errors to the Division of Water Rights, which will be responsible for following up and correcting errors in the original database.