OPINION — Water is the lifeblood of the American West. Drought years that are inconvenient for our generation were catastrophic for our pioneer ancestors. Thanks to the foresight of past generations to complete regional infrastructure projects, the average Utahn doesn’t routinely have to spend much time worrying about energy or water supplies.
On a hot day, we’ll swim in our reservoirs, turn up the air conditioning and pour a glass of cold tap water. Unfortunately, this is not a standard year or even a typical drought year.
While we may not be able to control nature, each one of us has an important role to play in conserving resources now, adapting for the near future and planning for generations to come. Already the second driest state in the nation, Utah’s drought is particularly acute this year with 90 percent of the state now experiencing “extreme drought.”
I have made a point to speak with every party affected by the drought. I’ve heard from some conservation groups who believe it’s time to start removing dams. I’ve also heard from other groups who believe we should stop allowing growth in the West, and that our resources are simply dried up.
While I am approaching every potential solution with an open mind, I believe we can find less extreme options than abandoning infrastructure or surrendering growth. Our goal should not be simply surviving this drought, but instead coming out the other side with a better, more sustainable system.
In the immediate crisis, we can control how much water we use and how much we waste. Everyone has a role to play in increasing efficiency, both at home and in the workplace. Water conservancy districts are a great resource for ideas and innovations. In addition, rebates are available to homeowners who switch to smart controllers and drip watering systems, plant water-efficient trees or invest in certain waterwise appliances.
The adoption of agricultural innovations is also part of the equation. For decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked with farmers and ranchers to incentivize and implement more efficient irrigation plans. We are fortunate to have these resources that have produced efficient means of irrigating crops. We need to properly take advantage of them.
In addition to addressing immediate needs, we need to start contributing our own innovations for the near future. For homeowners, the Utah Localscapes program teaches how to transition our landscapes to beautiful yards that work where we live.
In many areas, reducing wildfires is going to be critical to moving in the right direction. Burned areas cannot retain and filter water. Snowmelt and rainfall can become significantly more useable if we limit burned areas. This focus will also promote agricultural efficiency.
These are important steps. But like our pioneer ancestors, we need to look ahead even further to plan for the needs of successive generations. We inherited a novel infrastructure that has served us well for years, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.
I believe it’s time for more scientific investment. We need to have a more accurate measurement of the water currently available and a better understanding of how to use that water most efficiently. Conservation requires more precise application, and that means upgrading our utility infrastructure.
Utah will continue to grow. We need to tap into our pioneer spirit and vision to provide for future generations. Can you imagine Western communities if we did not have the water storage of Lake Powell, Mead and Flaming Gorge?
New water sources will be expensive to tap into. On a macro level, we must work together to innovate, plan and finance new projects, even as we work with neighboring states to map out the future of the Colorado River.
But, ultimately, our cheapest and most convenient option is to get more use out of the water we already have. Water shortages are a problem that impacts all of us. It’s no surprise that it will take all of us to create the healthy, sustainable communities we all want for Utah.
Submitted by REP. CHRIS STEWART, Utah Congressional District 2.
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