Fastest growing urban area in America has a water problem

Utah typically uses less than its allotted share of Colorado River water, which is distributed among western states, but climate change and population growth are taxed relations between the interstate constituents of the river. “Yes, [Utah residents] are legally entitled to this Colorado River water, ”Nuding said. “But … I think there are some water management measures we should adhere to before we deplete the Colorado River further.”

The leaders have, for the most part, ignored the suggestions of the environmentalists. Data on water use in Utah is scarce; until recently, statewide water surveys only took place every five years. In 2010, the latest state data available, per capita consumption in the St. George area was 325 gallons per day. More current figures from the city suggest conservation; St. George proper uses 250 gallons per person per day. Nevertheless, it still consumes more water than other cities in the South West. Las Vegas takes about 220 gallons per person each day; Tucson, considered a regional leader, uses 120.

The water tariffs here do not punish heavy use. A St. George household that consumes 16,000 gallons per month would see a water bill of $ 47; an equivalent use would cost a household in Tucson $ 184. The Washington County Water Conservation District is increasing rates 5-10% each year until benchmarks are tripled, but even then they would be a bargain. compared to some cities.

Utah’s water distribution systems are largely gravity fed, which keeps costs down, and most homeowners have access to unmetered non-potable water for landscaping and irrigation. This, along with state oversight over water tariffs, keeps tariffs low and consumption high.

Any major reduction in consumption here will require a cultural change. St. George is marketed as a desert oasis. Nine golf courses are located in the region, and it remains an agricultural stronghold. Local municipalities offer basic discounts for water conservation — St. George, for example, helps cover the cost of replacing high-flow toilets, but nothing at the city level which, for example, pays residents to replace sod with desert-friendly landscaping.

Mayor Pike announced developers who are voluntarily choosing water-smart home appliances and landscaping, and cited the planned community of Desert Color as an example. But the credibility of this water project has been called into question: its centerpiece is a 18 acre artificial pond.

That said, the growth of St. George could inherently drive efficiency. The construction of apartments and townhouses is finally catch up with demand, which will keep some new residents out of the sprawling single-family homes and backyards that gobble up so much water. Many new constructions will take place on agricultural land where water is already allocated.

But efficiency per person doesn’t mean less water use overall. Every inhabitant of St. George could cut their water use in half, but if the population more than doubles, the city will always use more water. This is the riddle of the growth of the desert. “We would be wise to diversify our sources,” Pike said. “If the Powell pipeline isn’t built, that would make a difference. … That would slow growth.

The construction of the pipeline, oddly enough, could lead to cost increases that could reduce water use. While the state would cover the initial costs of the pipeline, residents are on the hook for the long haul. In a letter to the governor of utah, state university economists said water tariffs would need to be increased six-fold for the region to meet its repayment obligations. “Of course, raising water prices that much would drastically decrease the demand for water from Washington County residents,” the economists wrote. “In our analysis, the demand has decreased so much that the [Lake Powell pipeline] the water would remain unused.

If tariffs go up anyway, conservation advocates believe the pipeline talks are coming too soon. “Why don’t they just try [raising rates] now, and see how much the demand changes? Nuding said. “From a water management perspective, this makes perfect sense. “

In this desert town in bloom, rulers have a choice: let the roses turn brown or pay exorbitantly to keep them?

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