From The Writer’s Desk: The Legislature Needs to Take Water Seriously

Alex Cragun - UPC Writer
Alex Cragun – UPC Writer

Last week, the Auditor General for the Legislature released a report showing gross inaccuracies in Utah’s water data. The data was so inaccurate that the auditors didn’t bother evaluating it for legislative use.

Water is the cornerstone of our existence, yet the Legislature Auditing Committee’s attitude towards the audit didn’t reflect the severity of the problem.

[pullquote]The legislature’s tone [towards the state’s water resources] is the same tone they’ve used for air quality for the last decade—apprehensive curiosity.[/pullquote]According to state law, water in Utah is a public resource. Had any other governmental division reported that their metrics or records were useless and that projections for the future were based on made up information or had another government entity used junk data to justify billions of dollars in needless infrastructure investment, the legislature would hold a three-ring circus of biting comments and wagging fingers about government waste. However, the legislature’s tone is the same tone they’ve used for air quality for the last decade—apprehensive curiosity.

Placed at the feet of the legislature is strong evidence of a toothless, ineffective, and openly inconsistent Utah Division of Water Rights (DWR) and Division of Natural Resources (DNR).  The audit clearly showed a lack of accountability for inaccuracies, a lack of communication between the DWR and cities, and acceptance of blatant over-reporting of water use by cities in order to protect municipal water rights out of fear that they might be reduced by the state.

The audit also found that the both the DNR and DWR may not even be truely at fault for the problems that the audit brought to light; auditors found these departments lack the authority to even correct such issues in the first place. There is a simple fix – simply grant greater rule-making authority to these departments – but don’t expect change to come any time soon. If the air quality debate has shown us anything, it is that the Utah Legislature isn’t willing to make the hard decisions needed to ensure living conditions continue for future generations.

A tiered water pricing system?

That sounds like a way to punish business. We’ll need time to study the impact it would have on the economy.

Fining people for wasting water?

What do you think this is, a nanny-state?

Incentivize cities to upgrade water infrastructure?

We don’t wanna pick winners and losers. That’s not what our Founding Fathers intended.

A tax credit for low water consumption?

We need to simplify our tax system! Our tax information should fit on a 9″x5″ index card!

Utah has the second highest rate of water consumption in the nation…and Utah is also the second driest state in the nation. This is simply unsustainable.  The sad fact is that Utah will continue to have the second highest rate of water consumption in the near future because our legislative seems unwilling to make hard decisions that will affect Utah for generations.

If the legislature put the same passion and energy into water as they did for our pressing transportation problems, we could solve our water issues in short order. The problem is, much like education, results are not immediate. You can campaign on tax dollars saved or government reduced. You can’t message water use reduction, and you can’t design a mailer with water infrastructure as the main message.

I expect a lot of affirmative statements like “we live in a desert” and “we can’t just do nothing” tossed around, much like the observation of “we live in a fish bowl” for the inversion. I don’t expect a lot of hard decisions made for a good long, time on this issue.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UPC or its staff.

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