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Lawmakers Say Drinking Water Rules Need Updating

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Utah lawmakers will be taking a hard look next year at how much water developers pledge for each new property.

When developers plan projects, they’re required to have a certain amount of water. Cities ultimately set those limits, but many of them look to the state Division of Drinking Water for guidance.

“We found that, while the indoor source-sizing requirement is too high, the outdoor requirement is too low,” Anndrea Parrish studied the state standards for the Legislative Auditor General’s Office.

Auditors say determining exactly what the proper water requirements should be is impossible because utilities currently don’t track the water used indoors separately from the water used outdoors. Ken Bousfield, director of the drinking water division, said the agency’s top priority is making sure water always flows from taps and during emergencies.

He told the Legislature’s Audit Committee: “It would not do to say to the fire department: “Well, water’s on backorder. Could you schedule your fire at a different time?”

Bousfield said his agency already has plans to collect more and better data, but it will require funding. State Senate President Wayne Neiderhauser said the date will foster smarter water use, and that is essential as Utah’s population doubles in the next few decades.

“In order to accommodate that growth, that per day use has to come down,” he said.

Legislators are asking no fewer than six committees to examine the issue next year. And Gov. Gary Herbert has requested $100,000 to study water pricing, which is considered a key factor in conservation.

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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