Residents of conservative, free-market Utah should understand this better than most Americans: The dwindling supply of water and increasing demand will make H2O much more expensive in the future. It's simply a free-market reality.
Water is a necessity of life and it's supplied by Mother Nature, but that doesn't mean it comes free, or even, in the arid West, cheap. Nor should it.
The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District plans to increase rates by an average 5 percent for its wholesale customers. Rate changes range from an increase of 1.2 percent in parts of Taylorsville to a hefty 9.4 percent jump in parts of Riverton. Impact fees charged for new retail business hookups will increase 62 percent.
Altogether, the district's wholesale customers 15 member agencies, including cities like West Jordan and special service districts like the Granger-Hunter Improvement District deliver water to about 600,000 residents of the Salt Lake Valley. Revenue from water sales goes to keeping up with growth in the service area, such as replacing aging pipes and building new lines.
"Water's not cheap," said David Martin, chief financial officer for the district, "and all the cheap water's gone. So any water that we have to develop comes with a higher cost."
But water in Utah is still too cheap, and that means there is not enough incentive to conserve. Water rates should reflect the market supply-and-demand reality, especially in southern Utah, but also in the Salt Lake Valley and the Wasatch Back.
The Utah Division of Water Resources reports that Utah's per capita water use continues to be among the highest in the nation. In 2005, Utah ranked second highest with a rate of 260 gallons per capita per day consumed, behind Nevada at 280 gpcd. And we continue this excessive consumption despite water conservation education campaigns over the past decade.
The use of "secondary water," untreated and for use only in yards and gardens in some areas of northern Utah, is seldom metered, meaning users pay a small annual fee for unlimited use. While conservation measures are encouraged, compliance is largely voluntary. That's unconscionable when drought is likely to be the new normal in the face of global climate change and warmer temperatures.
In January, Gov. Gary Herbert put renewed emphasis on a goal to reduce water usage by 25 percent per capita by 2025. But that may not be enough. Only when people are forced to pay the real cost of water will usage go down.