Lisa Rutherford: What happens to conservation in Washington County with the pipeline?

(Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune) This April 30, 2011 photo shows Lake Powell in southeastern Utah.

If the Lake Powell Pipeline is approved and built, water conservation in Washington County will end.

Currently, as we are warned of running out of water, conservation is a difficult sell to some. Leaders, unwilling to take a forceful position and make demands concerning lawns and water rates, expect all Utahns to bear the financial burden until our county “needs” the water and has to pay for it.

We use far more water than other thriving desert communities. According to the 2011 state Water Needs Assessment we were using 302.3 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) in 2005.

Washington County Water Conservancy District revealed in June 2018 that the state’s 2015 Water Use Data showed our usage at 303 gpcd, the new baseline for future data comparison.

Clearly from 2005 to 2015 we achieved no conservation. This was during a time when the water district warned that we would run out of water by 2020. It is 2020 and we are not running out of water but must err on the side of caution and learn to conserve. Their warning was meant to prompt support of the LPP but should actually have encouraged conservation.

We have around 170,000 in Washington County now, and are not running out of water in spite of our profligate use. This can’t go on forever.

Several years ago at a Washington County Water Conservation District meeting where a water usage study done by Utah State University was presented, our water manager noted that the majority of our area’s high water usage was due to about 10% of users. Have those users ever been identified?

Before all Utahns are asked to bear this multi-billion dollar burden, information such as this must be fleshed out.

The state and district use our county’s 50,000 visitors per year and our large number of second homes to justify our high usage. Other growing and prosperous desert areas such as Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas also have many visitors and probably a good number of second homes, too, due to climates similar to ours. But their water usage is lower than ours per person.

The state and district assert that our district’s water conservation plan is in line with other southwest desert communities, but if that’s so why is our usage greater than theirs? The state and district assert that we cannot be compared to them because water accounting is different. This is a problem that can be overcome by “normalizing” the usage between different areas, which the state and district refuse to do.

When compared to the 400 gpcd being used at the end of the 1990s perhaps a case can be made that some conservation has occurred but not enough. We are not running out of water now, but as we grow conservation will be required to extend our local resources, which can support growth to 500,000 and more if used well.

If LPP water is brought to us – and I assert the Colorado River will not support that – conservation will wither and die, but the debt will remain.

Even the state’s 2019 Regional Conservation Goals document sets Washington County’s 2065 usage goal at 237 gpcd – higher than other cities in the desert southwest today.

If we can’t conserve water now when we are being warned about running out of water and have the huge LPP debt hanging over our heads, will we if the LPP water is made available? No. We will continue our profligate ways while indebting our children, grandchildren and state. Washington County can and must manage our water usage better than we currently do.

Lisa Rutherford, Ivins, worked in the oil industry in Alaska for 20 years and now works on conservation issues in Washington County.