This conclusion is based on a recent audit of the Utah Division of Water Rights that was released on Tuesday, which stated that Utah may be running out of water. However, both if and when we will run out is unclear, as the audit found that the data used to discover the date that the wells start to run dry is inaccurate, that projections are flawed, and that there is a large amount of water available if policymakers and the public are willing to make some changes.
Two years in the making, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General found that the state will require $33 billion in maintenance funding for Utah’s water infrastructure, not including the $2 billion for the Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River Dam.
“I don’t think that we can evaluate whether the need exists until we have accurate information,” said Representative Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City). King continued by saying he didn’t want to use taxpayer money on what could amount to a water “turf war.” Senator Wayne Neiderhauser (Republican – Sandy) also questioned the need for the project based on current water use projections.
The report would criticize just how bad the data was, saying that there were “several instances in which the water use data reported to the Division of Water Rights did not match the amount reported in other, internal city reports. Additionally, one city’s reported water use for 2012 was the water use of another city with an identical name in the state of New York.”
The audit also found that the Water Division only contacted cities every five years to determine if water use data was accurate. James Behunin of the Auditor General’s office said that “this approach is problematic because no actual verification of the data is made. If the locals say that the data is accurate, then the division accepts it at face value,” adding that “they need to have better data, you can’t manage what you do not measure.”
Behunin continued by suggesting that, to ensure use reduction, universal metering and water pricing is needed. The audit noted that Utah water is often paid on property taxes, rather than billed based on actual use of the finite resource. By metering water, the report suggested that conservation would easily take place as the public became aware of the real cost of water, and that many can achieve their water related goals with fewer gallons used.
For years, conservation groups like the Utah Rivers Council have suggested that Utah’s water demands are inflated by low prices. On Tuesday, this was confirmed by the state’s audit, noting that Utahns use far more water when compared to other states – pointing out that, among western states, Utah has the highest rate of per capita usage for municipal and industrial water consumption and the second highest overall usage of water where agriculture is considered.
“The Division of Water Resources has been using bad data to support billions of dollars in unnecessary spending for massive water projects,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.
According to the audit, Utah is on target to complete a 25 percent reduction of use by 2025, but with the state expecting to double in population by 2060, it remains to be seen how effective these measures are. Because data is so inconsistent, it is unclear if local water projects could potentially offset future shortages. Furthermore, auditors would note that the needs and potential gains of Utah’s 11 water districts are vastly different, and that some districts could reasonably reach even higher goals of conservation – but, again, due to poor reporting and data, it is unclear where gains can be made.
The complete audit can be found here: