OPINION — I appreciate Gov. Spencer Cox’s recent executive actions and request for prayers to address the increasingly serious drought conditions in Utah.
However, I respectfully believe that these actions have not yet matched the severity of the situation nor are they likely to adequately reduce the demand for water to keep pace with the dwindling supply.
Utah can and should implement much stronger measures to increase water conservation and reclamation. This is not rocket science. Utah is sadly far beyond other western states that have already successfully implemented many feasible and effective water conservation and reclamation methods.
Cox, along with Director of the Utah Division of Water Resources Todd Adams and other Utah officials, should learn from these recent successes elsewhere, put the broad public interest ahead of narrow development interests and ensure that future water shortage costs and impacts are shared equitably.
For example, they should support the following reasonable and feasible measures:
1. Phase out the improper property tax subsidies for water districts. These subsidies undermine water conservation efforts because they remove the connection between the price for and quantity of available water. Water districts should solely rely on revenue from providing water, ideally through use of tiered rates that reward frugal and punish wasteful use. It is clearly unfair to use property taxes which bear no correlation to water uses.
2. Meter secondary water use and encourage greater filtration of it for potable uses or use it for groundwater recharge. Secondary water use is currently very wasteful. This water is valuable and therefore its use should be metered for improved data collection and management. Utah’s water districts could make much better use of it, as other communities in the West have already done. For example, water districts in Arizona and California are already using treated wastewater for groundwater recharge, and that same groundwater is later pumped back up to the surface for potable uses.
3. Encourage municipalities to adopt and enforce xeriscape ordinances (especially for new developments) and require water districts to implement xeriscape incentive programs to pay owners to convert lawns to native, drought tolerant vegetation. These xeriscape ordinances and incentive programs have already proven highly successful in greatly reducing water demand in other western communities.
4. Follow Nevada’s recent example and require the phase out of all non-functional lawns (those that are only used for ornamental purposes).
5. Pursue funding for programs to line current dirt agricultural water canals to reduce seepage losses and explore putting floating solar panels on canals and reservoirs to reduce evaporation losses.
6. Encourage alfalfa growers to consider substituting less water intensive crops and converting rain bird type water spraying systems to drip irrigation systems that are much more water efficient.
7. Prohibit water districts from using public funds to hire private lobbyists to push in the Utah Legislature for expensive and controversial water projects and who work to stop effective water conservation to bolster the purported need for such projects. Such lobbying should solely be paid for from private sources, such as by the developers, land speculators, engineering firms and construction companies that downplay conservation and promote expensive public water projects to benefit their private profit interests. It is unfair to the taxpayers to use their money to lobby for public project funding or to mount biased public relations campaigns to promote controversial water projects that have not even completed objective analysis through required environmental review processes.
If Utah officials support and implement these measures, significant water conservation and reclamation benefits will occur. If they do not, the current water shortages from prolonged drought will likely continue and worsen. These shortages pose the growing risk of staggering social, economic and environmental costs and adverse impacts.
Doing what is necessary will require great vision, courage, tenacity, and leadership. Are Utah officials up to meeting and surmounting this enormous challenge? I suspect that the answer to this key question may largely be determined by the extent to which these officials are held accountable by the public for their actions or lack thereof.
Submitted by RICHARD SPOTTS, St. George.
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