Without Water, There Is No Life
On my morning runs, I often find myself giving thanks to all of the snowmelt flowing down the streets, into the ground, and to our rivers, because this is the water that will sustain us—both our growing population and our economy. Without water, there is no life.
Since Utah’s settlement, when our pioneer ancestors made the desert “blossom as the rose,” water has played an essential role in our state’s development. These first non-native settlers placed dams on streams and built large irrigation canals to feed their crops, and they worked toward a common goal—maintaining their grand vision even through the most difficult times.
Difficult times are once again upon us and in order to maintain our quality of life and economic competitiveness, we need a grand vision that we can all work towards together.
Just last year, Utah recorded its driest year on record, precipitation levels were the lowest recorded since 1895. Not only was it dry but it was hot—2018 was Utah’s second-warmest year on record. Several counties declared drought disasters prompting Governor Herbert to declare a statewide emergency. The declaration helped those farmers and industries severely impacted by the drought, but it did little to aid the state’s severely depleted reservoirs, the disappearing streams, or the waters impacted by toxic algae blooms.
And while this year’s snowfall has helped pull Utah out of its severe drought—currently 3.25 percent of our state is in a moderate drought compared to last year’s totals of 99.96 percent—its yet to be seen if our state reservoirs will fully recover.
Lake Powell, one of the two main lakes feeding the Colorado River, provides drinking water to some 40 million people, and yet remains more than 42 feet below last year’s totals. State hydrologists warn that one good winter does not mean Utah’s 19-year drought is over.
Mother Nature’s unpredictable swings and the increasing threats of climate change, paired with institutional constraints and population growth likely means Utah’s water supply will continue to be stretched as supply decreases and demand increases. For this reason, significant changes in policy, planning, and management are necessary to ensure Utah’s water future. Thankfully, both our state and federal leaders are heeding the call.
Last month, Utah’s federal delegation unanimously voted in favor of landmark legislation that protects the Colorado River system and avoids mandatory delivery cuts by the US government. The Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), agreed to by seven Colorado River basin states, including Utah, puts proactive conservation measures in place to voluntarily reduce water usage now and help prevent a serious shortage in the future.
Here locally, Utah lawmakers are also making water conservation a priority. During this last legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring secondary water metering for all water suppliers by 2020 and provided loan funding to help ease the transition. By metering our secondary water, we will not only know just how much we use but we may eventually be charged for that usage, further encouraging us to conserve.
Addressing Utah’s water challenges is a major focus of the Salt Lake Chamber and has been since its inception. In 1891, the early Chamber called for a multi-state irrigation conference and fought to protect watersheds in the 1920s. Today, the Chamber advocates for smart water policies and works to educate the business community on best practices in water stewardship as well as new optimization in technology and tools.
Coming up on September 12, 2019, the Salt Lake Chamber is joining forces with the US Chamber and the Government of Israel to host the Business H2O Summit in Snowbird, Utah. This conference will provide an opportunity to share best practices in water management and policy, as well as potentially help develop industry solutions and business investment in future water technologies in both Utah and Israel.
By working with our international partners, local business leaders and policymakers, the Salt Lake Chamber is working to ensure our state has a strong water future and a prosperous economy.