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Wedig: Help shape Utah's water future

Published July 13, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

July 9 marked the start of statewide listening sessions on Utah's water future. Decisions made regarding our water resources in the next few years will impact future generations for decades to come. Water management decisions involve billions of taxpayer dollars and have longstanding impacts that are difficult if not impossible to reverse.

Fortunately for Utahns, Gov. Gary Herbert has recognized the importance of these decisions and is providing a forum for public comment. Utahns can guarantee the special interests will be out in full force at these meetings championing the positions that have defined Utah's current water policy. That policy has left the state Division of Water Resources with a $20 billion wish list and no plan for funding. Without public involvement, these meetings will result in business as usual and Utah's water future will be dismal at best.

Of particular importance in planning Utah's water future is our role in Colorado River management decisions. This year, the Colorado was named the most endangered river in the United States. The federal Bureau of Reclamation's Colorado River Supply and Demand Study estimates that by 2060 there will be a basin-wide shortage of 3.2 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is as much water as two average households use annually. The impacts of such a shortage will be widespread and devastating.

It is time for the people of the Colorado River Basin to abandon the outdated territorial thinking that has led us to this crisis and truly begin thinking together as an entire basin.

In a recent meeting, Washington County Water District Manager Ron Thompson stated, "The shortages in the Colorado River are all Lower Basin shortages." The truth is, Lower Basin shortages will quickly become Upper Basin issues. Nevada's potential shortage of water is Utah's problem, as seen in the recent discussions surrounding Utah's West Desert water.

The same is true for California and Arizona. It is politically naive to assume that in a water crisis, wasteful use of Utah's Colorado River right will hold up against the collective need of Arizona, California and Nevada. As Colorado River water becomes further strained and reservoir levels continue to fall, Utah, like all other states reliant on the Colorado River, will need to enter into collaborative solutions.

Current Utah water policy is ill-prepared to deal with this impending crisis. Our water development standards and resources are not well understood, even within the water community. For example, the Division of Water Resources has spent $25 million on study reports for the Lake Powell Pipeline proposed for southern Utah. These reports state that the pipeline would not be the "driver" of regional population and economic growth.

Yet, at the June State Water Development Commission, the Washington County Water District presented its own, completely contradictory study claiming that the pipeline would drive more than $7 billion into Washington County and will be a veritable panacea for Utah's economy.

Unfortunately, the Water Development Commission has not yet been made aware of these contradictions. Public comment surrounding the Lake Powell Pipeline and other projects is frequently not allowed or cut dramatically short in these meetings.

The governor's meetings may be Utahns' only chance to be heard on water issues that will directly affect our pocketbook, our future and the future of the Colorado River. Make sure your voice is heard. Meeting dates and locations can be found at: http://www.utahswater.org

Christi Wedig is executive director of Glen Canyon Institute, a nonprofit advocating science-based public policy and positive citizen action. She lives in Salt Lake City. GCI works for protection and full restoration of Glen Canyon and other Colorado River corridors and ecosystems.