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Op-ed: Water and business must mix in Utah

By Lane Beattie

First Published Aug 05 2014 03:46 pm • Last Updated Aug 05 2014 03:46 pm

As the second-driest state in the nation facing a population boom, water is everything to Utah. With it, we have settled valleys, grown crops, raised children, recreated and supported a vibrant and growing economy. Without it, our economy and quality of life is at great risk. Many of us take for granted the water that so easily flows from our faucets at home and at work. We are the beneficiaries of forward-thinking leaders of decades past who came together to invest in our current water infrastructure.

Water management and water policy is a complex issue. Despite this complexity we cannot ignore the fact that it touches every sector of our economy and impacts our regional and global competitiveness. Water provides recreational opportunities and natural beauty that attracts great companies and terrific employees. It keeps our communities vital and strong. Water is also an essential part of many business processes. We must strike a thoughtful balance between managing our limited supply and maintaining economic interests.

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With Utah’s population expected to double in the coming decades, there is a great need for a vibrant discussion on this important asset. As a business community, we want to ensure we continue to take a prudent, disciplined approach to infrastructure investment. Additionally, we must have a thoughtful discussion and action on water conservation and management as a community of residents and businesses.

As Utah’s "voice of business," the Salt Lake Chamber is committed to being an active partner and leader by facilitating movement rallying the business community around this critical issue. Obviously, there isn’t a simple fix. We commend and commit our continued support for the efforts of Gov. Gary Herbert, Envision Utah and many vested stakeholders in addressing this issue and solving our many challenges. It is because of the collaboration of many and effective management of our current water infrastructure that we enjoy an adequate supply of water today.

This week, the Chamber will be leading "Utah | Water is Your Business" to demonstrate the business community’s thirst for action on this issue and to promote a community conversation about business leadership on water concerns. On Tuesday, our community’s business leaders came together for a discussion on the future of Utah’s water resources and to get a firsthand look at a soon-to-be released report detailing the economic value of water to Utah. This meeting was part of an entire week dedicated to engaging business on this important natural resource. By providing leadership in water conservation and management and infrastructure needs, we will add a unique voice to the discussions already taking place.

This effort builds on the business community’s long history of leading out on water issues. We believe water conservation, stewardship and prudent management is the best and most cost-effective first step to effectively use our available water resources. In this regard, Utah’s business community must lead by example. Many businesses are already ahead of the curve on this front, but we can and will do better.

Nevertheless, conservation alone will not deliver our future water needs. Additionally, the eminent reality of our aging water infrastructure will require significant and growing expenses to maintain, and eventually will need to be replaced. And our water resources and infrastructure will be placed under even further pressure from our community’s projected growth. As an ardent supporter of prudent investments in our community’s infrastructure in order to support our economy, the Salt Lake Chamber is looking forward to being part of the discussion to identify how we will continue the legacy of meeting our long-term water needs, protect our current water resources and make disciplined investments. This includes a thorough discussion about the advantages and disadvantages, and a comprehensive look at how we pay for the future investments in our infrastructure.

Addressing these challenges is not new to our state. Utah’s forefathers promised to make the "desert blossom like a rose." A vision that we are benefiting from today and must not lose sight of. Utah, water is your business.

Lane Beattie is president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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