Letter to the Editor: The perfect storm: Food and water in Southern Utah, part 1

Stock image | Photo by R_Litewriter/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — It is now time to directly address our food and water reality, particularly in light of a projected population growth to over 500,000 people in Washington County by 2065. Couple the expected growth with projections for hotter and drier weather and we are facing a perfect storm. This forecast is particularly troubling because Utah depends primarily upon precipitation for its water supply.

Problem solving oftentimes begins with asking the correct questions. A reasonable first question would be something like, “Where can I go to get a better understanding of water and the water situation in Utah?” Here are some basic reference points I found helpful.

Agriculture accounts for up to 87% of our water consumption in Utah. While some progress has been made to reduce its usage, more measures are likely necessary in light of population growth and weather projections.

Water is a complex issue indeed, hence it requires study to make sure we understand the variations of water, how its usage is calculated, its treatment for human consumption and more.

We should also differentiate culinary or drinking water from secondary water.

Two essential reads for a historical context that continues to impact our reality today are “Science Be Dammed” by Eric Kuhn and John Fleck and “Where the Water Goes” by David Owen. Several additional websites to explore are:

Finally, the city of Ivins has two excellent articles written by Mayor Chris Hart in the May and June newsletters that highlights issues facing Ivins.

Understanding the content of these sources will help all of us ask better questions and encourage more analysis by our leaders. For example, we have been hearing more and more about Utah’s drought conditions, the pros and cons of the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP), water conservation efforts, largely tapped out aquifers and the like for some time now. Additionally, we have been encouraged by Governor Spencer Cox to pray for rain while he also shared a few water conservation measures that state government will be taking. He also recently announced the “H2Oath” program focusing on how businesses can conserve water.

Water levels at the boat launch ramp for Antelope Marina at Lake Powell, April 11, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Susan Kjvj, St. George News

Each of these steps moves us in the right direction; however, the previous sources help us see that they are not nearly sufficient to address the sobering challenge confronting Utah, and most certainly Southern Utah.

Specific communitywide water conservation methods such as cutting back on watering and adjusting the times we do water, reducing grass areas, planting drought hardy grass such as Bermuda or Fescue, eliminating/reducing artificial lakes, revising HOA rules to encourage desert landscapes and planting naturally drought resistant indigenous plants that can also be pleasant to the eye, are just a few of the measures we can take on our own. Developers and golf courses can take a proactive role by cutting back on water features and deploying less grass and/or drought tolerant grass. New developments can limit or eliminate nonfunctional grass areas.

Each of these steps will extend our local water resources for our expanding economy and growing population. Las Vegas has been way ahead of the curve regarding water conservancy measures, and there is much to learn from their foresight and courage.

As for the often-discussed LPP, we cannot overestimate the complexity of issues associated with this concept. For example, laws and agreements that date back prior to World War II as well as more recent governing documents will need to be renegotiated.

Also, some believe that it is very possible that the LPP will generate cost overruns, involve challenging negotiations to address tax and price hike authority by multiple jurisdictions and clarifying federal and state roles and responsibilities. In addition, Utah will assume its largest bond-related debt in its history. And, last but not least, there is no guarantee that there will be sufficient water available by the time the LPP is completed to justify the effort and expense of the project.

Furthermore, it is my understanding that a fully functioning pipeline will only provide a very small percentage of our water needs. It is not a panacea. Our analysis of these and related issues and the answers provided by our leaders and experts should be fully transparent and open for public discussion before firm commitments are made.

A garden hose watering a lawn, shown for illustrative purposes, Cedar City, Utah, April 22, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Confronting our reality, no matter how unpleasant, is a lesson we can learn from Admiral Jim Stockdale while he was a POW in Vietnam for seven years.

We need realists to move us forward. Is it really wise to rely upon mother nature to provide for us when we are not doing all we can ourselves? We can move beyond our natural tendencies to avoid, deny, delay or even blame and actually sit down together to problem solve.

Given this stark reality concerning water, is it even reasonable to raise the topic of growing food in the desert? At first glance, it does sound counterintuitive. Yet, this is exactly the time to think about both food and water, which are inextricably tied together for our survival. In this light, the next installment of this Op-Ed series will discuss agriculture and food production.

Submitted by DAVID C. HATCH, Ivins. Hatch is a former presidential appointee to the USDA serving as associate administrator for the multibillion dollar U.S. crop and livestock insurance program. He is also a hemispheric expert on agricultural risk management and has consulted extensively with virtually every country in the hemisphere including ambassadors, ministers, scientists, the U.S. State Department and the World Bank to create science-based agricultural policy for small- and mid-sized farmers, including women. Prior to his public sector service, Hatch was an entrepreneur and executive in the global risk management field. Hatch would like to thank Tony McCammon of Bloom Horticulture for his contribution to this series.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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