[REGIONAL NEWS] As Utah dries up, lawmakers look for smarter ways to transfer, use — and not use — water

Andy Golden of Benchland Water District at Reservoir B in Farmington, Wednesday July 25, 2018. The reservoir typically holds between 15 and 20 million gallons of water, but last summer district customers depleted it after a spate of overwatering. New legislation would require metering of “secondary” water to curb such waste. /Trent Nelson /Tribune file photo

 

By Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune

Will Utah have sufficient water in an era of declining stream flows to support a population expected to double, strong agriculture, recreation economies and a healthy environment?

While that sounds like having your Diet Coke and drinking it, too, water policy honchos believe Utah can meet its future water needs, though not without developing new sources and improving the way water is currently used.

The use-it-or-lose-it foundation of Western water law promotes waste or at least suboptimal use of this most precious natural resource and is fraught with disincentives for conservation.

Several bills cued up for this legislative session seek to reduce Utahns’ notoriously profligate water use and to add flexibility to the ways water rights are administered. In general, lawmakers prefer addressing the water question with “market-based voluntary transactions” as opposed to regulatory “command and control” oversight.

A ‘bank’ for liquid assets

At the forefront of this discussion is a resolution championed by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, to promote “water banking,” a program that enables growers to pause their water use without risk of forfeiting their right to the water. With agriculture accounting for 80 percent of use, banking could go along way to solving the state’s water woes.

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