‘Critical to Utah’s prosperity’: State water managers seek public comment on new water resources plan

ST. GEORGE — Public comment is being sought by state water managers for the new state water resources plan. Water managers say this plan has been years in the making and it aims to identify when and where water will be needed throughout Utah.

Irrigation water being used in Washington City, Utah, July 2, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

A draft water management plan released Wednesday is up for public comment through. Nov. 15.

“A safe, reliable water supply is critical to Utah’s prosperity and quality of life,” Candice Hasenyager, director of the Division of Water Resources said in a press release issued Wednesday. “This plan provides a comprehensive look at Utah’s current water use and supply conditions and future demand scenarios. It’s a long-range planning document and not a ‘drought response plan’ to address the current extreme drought.“

The plan, which has been a collaborative effort between the Division of Water Resources, related state agencies, local water districts and other groups, takes historical, current and predictive data and lays down a tentative resources plan covering the next 50 years.

The coordinated action plan will include a comprehensive implementation strategy as the state continues to plan for rapid growth, climate change and sound management of an uncertain natural resource, the division’s press release states.

“(This plan) provides a comprehensive look at Utah’s current water use and supply conditions and future demand scenarios,” Bryan Steed, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, wrote in the plan’s foreword. “It focuses on three water management principles: reliable data, supply security, and healthy environment. It also prioritizes actions the Division of Water Resources will undertake in the next five years.”

At Quail Creek Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, May 1, 2019 | Photo Mori Kessler, St. George News

Unlike previous water management plans that have largely been status updates and were written in a very technical manner, the new plan highlights the goals and plans the Division of Water Resources will undertake and has been written with a more conversational tone for a general audience – namely the public.

Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Conservancy District, said the final document will help set the tone for future water use, projects and legislative measures throughout the state, including Southern Utah.

Farmers and ranchers will see what the state plans for agricultural water use, while developers can learn how the state may approach future construction projects as they relate to the state’s water supply, Renstrom said, as he gave examples some of the issues the state addresses in the draft plan.

“If you’re a farmer or someone who has a very specific connection to water, or cares about water policy, you’ll find this document very interesting,” he said, adding that those people concerned need to voice any concerns.

In this file photo, Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George, Utah, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Renstrom said three points in the draft plan are obvious:

  • How important water is to Washington County and the state overall.
  • That Utah has a limited supply of water that needs to be used wisely.
  • It is important to plan for wise water use as the population continues to grow so water will be available for future generations.

Renstrom added that the plan shows how much planning the state and local agencies put into water infrastructure and supply projects.

“Sometimes there’s a perceived notion that we’re not doing enough planning when is comes to water,” he said. “I think this is a document that directly contradicts that and shows that the state of Utah is taking a proactive approach and thinking about not just our water needs today, but also for water needs for our children coming up.”

It is noted in the draft study that water need projections are based on current and historical data reported to the state by various water users and models that attempt to predict future conditions as best as possible.

Irrigation water being used in Washington City, Utah, July 2, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Those projections suggest target areas of the state will have enough water for growth — provided regional water conservation goals are met. The study nonetheless acknowledges that parts of Utah including Washington County and portions of the Wasatch Front need to secure additional water supplies moving forward.

“The Division (of Water Resources) acknowledges that the impacts of drought and climate change on future water supplies are difficult to predict,” the draft plan states.

Interested parties may view the plan and submit public comment through Nov. 15 on the division’s website.

A virtual open house will also be held Oct. 20 from 7-8 p.m. and be hosted over a live YouTube stream and live Google Meet video conference, the latter of which will allow for Q-and-A participation.

“The unprecedented drought of 2021 highlights the challenge of forecasting the water supply that will be available in the future,” the draft plan states.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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