For Utahns, the Great Salt Lake is the focal point of a cascade of environmental alarm signals caused by the drought-fueled drop in the southwest’s water supply. It is perilously close to a healthy ecology despite being at its lowest point in recorded history. The long list of consequences of a dying lake is becoming familiar to Utahns: hazardous dust storms, threatened bird species, more than $1 billion in economic losses, a declining snowpack owing to less “lake effect” snow, and so on.
A pricey pipeline from the Pacific Ocean to the lake and the erratic practice of cloud seeding are two proposed remedies that are attracting serious but skeptical attention. But according to experts, the best solution might also be the simplest: use less water. “Conservation must be our top priority. All over the place.
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Period,” declared Joel Ferry, a former state legislator who is currently in charge of the Department of Natural Resources in Utah. Not only is it our first option, but it is also the most economical. So let’s practice conservation before we spend tens of billions of dollars building pipes someplace. Let’s practice complete conservation.
Where rigorous conservation policies have lagged, Utahns have stepped up. They promised to release 30,000 acre-feet to the Great Salt Lake by 2023 to help stabilize its rising salinity levels, and they voluntarily conserved 9 billion gallons of water over the course of this past summer by cutting back on outdoor irrigation.
A flurry of conservation bills is anticipated at the upcoming Utah legislative session. Policymakers are also taking action with more water-saving efforts like the $60 million agriculture optimization program to increase irrigation efficiency and the state is stepping up the installation of secondary water meters.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican from Kaysville, intends to push for greater funding for the lake and introduce legislation to establish “Utah Water Ways,” a program for water education that will be similar to the way the state manages clean-air projects. Legislation is also being written by other legislators.
Similar to the Las Vegas turf prohibition, Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, has proposed a similar measure. It would get rid of “nonfunctional turf” and make homeowners more inclined to remove their lawns.
We must practice water-conscious landscaping. Rep. Owens declared at the second Great Salt Lake Summit, “We’re not going to have non-functional turfs like medians in highways and everything. We are still allowed to have some trees, shrubs, and turf, and homeowners are allowed to have some turf, but we need to restrict it during construction.
According to Kyle Roerink, head of the Great Basin Water Network, Las Vegas and Utah are currently “light years apart.” “Progress has been made in certain ways. In the end, everything depends on how much money is spent on turf removal. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 20 years transforming the urban residential landscape.
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A few million dollars were proposed in Utah during the most recent legislative session, he added. Roerink claimed that Utah has not moved swiftly enough and hinted that harsher regulations may eventually be needed. “In Utah, we’ve noticed some sluggishness, and I think a lot of that has to do with the way things have always been done, aesthetic ideals, and the need to adapt as our environment changes.
Vegas has personally witnessed it, he claimed. Utah’s political leaders have so far refrained from passing laws, choosing instead to promote a greater sense of volunteerism in the face of the drought. Speaker Wilson stated a wish for individuals to get educated and act morally with the greatest information available to them at a recent conference organized by the Great Salt Lake Collaborative.
However, if Las Vegas’s experience has taught us anything, it is that new rules, limits, and incentives may be needed because voluntary conservation may not be sufficient. The current president and CEO of her consulting firm, Sustainable Strategies, is Pat Mulroy, a former CEO of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District.
She participated in the creation of the Colorado River policy and led the charge for water conservation in Las Vegas. According to her, the business community set an excellent example, and just as what is currently taking on in Salt Lake City, conservation was discussed through some means every single week.
We capitalized on people’s natural urge to want to contribute to the solution rather than the problem, according to Mulroy. She went on to say that some measures were unpopular.
“Oh my goodness, the prospect of losing their fountains drove people nuts. So we replied, “Okay, you can have your fountain if you cut down enough grass to equal 50 times as much water as that fountain needs.”
We were able to work around the difficulties that the community was unable to let go of.
Las Vegas, according to Roerink, might serve as a good model for cities in Utah.
“Ignoring what’s going on in Las Vegas would be foolish for places like St. George, Cedar City, and Salt Lake City. Should it be a carbon copy? No. But would there be a really solid plan, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of direction available from down there in Vegas?
Roerink added, however, that Utah serves as a model for other states in a significant aspect of conservation. He referred to the meters being installed all around the state that track outdoor water use on lawns and landscaping as “one area where Utah really shined.”
Once individuals are aware of how much water they are actually consuming, state officials have already observed immediate savings of up to 30%. Nevada could accomplish that, claimed Roerink. Emeritus professor Wayne Wurtsbaugh of Utah State University’s Watershed Sciences Department and Ecology Center examines how water use in the Great Salt Lake watershed compares and comes to the conclusion that conservation is the answer.
According to him, the watershed’s current lawn usage is 4 or 5%, and overwatering will cause the majority of that water to evaporate or be lost. The largest concern we have is not gardening, although demand for that usage will increase nonetheless, according to Wurtsbaugh.
This is because more water will be needed from the rivers that feed the lake in 2050 as Utah’s population is predicted to quadruple. According to Wurtsbaugh, cities today consume more than 11% of the watershed. However, water used in homes for showers, washing dishes, toilets, and other purposes drains into cleaned waterways before finally returning to rivers and, ideally, lakes.
According to him, agriculture accounts for 63% of the lake watershed, while mineral extraction in the form of evaporation ponds uses roughly 13%. He emphasized that although Utahns recorded a 20% reduction in water use this year through voluntary conservation, that only equated to 2.2% more water entering the lake. There is a difference, but it’s not a significant one. He claimed that the amount of water entering the Great Salt Lake would rise to 14.8% if agriculture were to also save 20%.