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Water Solutions in Utah are Required for Economic Growth
by Adam Torkildson
June 23, 2023

The Great Salt Lake alone has an economic effect of approximately $1.5 billion due to strategic mineral mining from its waters. The lake is an important source of lithium, titanium, magnesium, and potash, which are used to make everything from medical gadgets to rechargeable batteries and crop fertilizer. The lake directly supports about 7,000 local employees.

Putting money aside for a rainy day

The Great Salt Lake and Lake Powell were at their lowest levels ever in July 2021. And while the winter months saw snowfall and watersheds are no longer in the red alert category for snowpack, a large chunk of the state remains in severe drought.

Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, notes that this is so essential because our snowpack accounts for around 95 percent of our water supply. "The snow that remained in the mountains all winter melts, rushes down the watersheds, and begins to fill our reservoirs." Our reservoirs performed exactly as they should have last year, correct? They were constructed to collect large flows and utilize them indirectly during rainy and dry years. "The only thing we have to do is make sure we have enough for our expected future dry years," Hasenyager said.

The Great Salt Lake is an important topic to examine because, while it is not drinkable, it is seen as a canary in the coal mine. The snow melts and falls down to the reservoirs, where the trash ends up in the Great Salt Lake. The lake rises two to three feet on average in a good year. It barely grew six inches this year. If the lake level increases significantly, communities can be certain that they will have enough water to meet their demands. If it does not, communities must be aware that there may be problems for local economies and habitats.

Despite the fact that a scarcity of water affects both the economy and the environment, the government is not imposing any restrictions or regulations on the private sector in order to make the state as business-friendly as possible.

"The largest potential for companies, individuals, and people inside cities is turf removal and linear outside landscaping," says Laura Hanson, State Planning Coordinator for the Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget. "We have a cultural expectation of having nice green grass here. We live in a drought-stricken desert. That is probably not the best long-term option."

Hanson suggests prepping your lot with drought-tolerant landscaping rather than green grass and determining which county your business would be most suited in based on the reservoir in that county.

Data centers are one of the industries that consume the most water. While Utah remains "business-friendly," the state is nevertheless interested in diversifying the counties in which these data centers are placed so that they do not all draw from the same water source.

Private-sector water managers

Real Salt Lake is one company that has been formally acknowledged for its conservation efforts (RSL). Real Salt Lake was named a "water champion" by the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce in 2017. RSL discovered additional spots near Rio Tinto Stadium where they might minimize or eliminate water consumption without damaging the turf.

"Water conservation is included in our landscaping around the stadium grounds. Rio Tinto Stadium has a drip system and ground cover to prevent evaporation," an RSL spokesman told the Salt Lake Chamber. "In addition, landscaping is created using water-wise plants rather than growing grass across the grounds." Carnival Real, a one-acre space used to accommodate fans in a lively outdoor setting, was transformed with water conservation in mind. The gravel and grass areas were replaced with artificial turf, which eliminated the need for watering. The Carnival Real's border also has minimal greenery. The original plans featured a water element, but it was removed owing to the requirement for stringent water conservation measures."

RSL maintains the same dedication today. Since 2017, the organization has reduced its water use by half. "We are cognizant of the water issue here in Utah and attempt to restrict water use as required," a team representative said.

Infrastructure improvement

The Utah Legislature allocated almost $516 million in financing for projects related to natural resources, agriculture, and environmental quality in 2022. With $50.6 million in ongoing support and $464.9 million in one-time spending, these allocations will mostly benefit water infrastructure. This includes $200 million in one-time funding for secondary water metering, $30 million in one-time funding for Utah Lake preservation, $25 million in one-time funding for rural drinking water projects, $40 million in one-time funding for the Great Salt Lake trust, and $60 million in one-time funding for the Bear Lake Marina expansion.

Governor Spencer Cox stated, "Conditions this past year have highlighted all Utahns the significance of water planning and conservation. Water storage decisions made by legislators 100 years ago have helped us. Our responsibility is now to maintain water security for future generations, and this strategy will help us do so."

Water is the lifeblood of communities and will always be a pillar of the Utah economy. Without question, every company and person must do their share to make the world a better place today and in the future.

About the author
Adam Torkildson
Adam Torkildson
Adam is a long-time resident of American Fork, UT. He serves in several local service organizations and advises several startups that he's invested in or founded.
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