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Utah Uses More Water As National Use Dips

Arby Reed
Flickr Creative Commons

A new snapshot of the nation’s water use shows a downward trend.

But Utah is using more water, according to the

U.S. Geological Survey’s five-year study,  based on 2010 data,  shows the nation’s homes, farms, industry and power plants are using significantly less water than they have in more than four decades.

Utah bucked that trend, using 7 percent more water than in 2005.

That makes Utah the thirstiest state in the nation at 248 gallons per person per day, says Zach Frankel, director of the Utah Rivers Council, who analyzed the numbers.

“It’s clear that Utah’s conservation practices have stalled out,” he says,  “and we really need to address this.”

Frankel points out that the new data shows Nevada reduced its water consumption by 25 percent while Utah’s consumption rate grew 2 percent.

Utahns would use less if rates properly reflected the value of water, he says.

“Utah is just realizing that conservation is a viable source of water,” Frankel says. “We are decades behind other states in really reducing our water use.”

Water managers around the state criticize per capita figures. They say different states have different ways of making those calculations.

Ari Bruening is chief operating officer for Envision Utah. It’s a public issues think tank that's leading a statewide water task force. Bruening says his group recently queried 1,000 Utahns on the state’s most important issues.

“Very top was water -- Utahns are very concerned about water --  followed closely by education and air quality, “ he says.  “And then we also asked Utahns, how are we doing on these issues, and those same three issues came out at the bottom. There’s a mandate that we need to look at those three issues and see if we can do better.”

Envision Utah has developed an online game that asks users to weigh in on how to manage water in the coming decades. It explores choices like saving water by xeriscaping and the pocketbook costs of developing new water resources.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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