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Health, Science & Environment

Climate Refugees: A Possibility Overlooked In Water Plans?

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Natural Resources Conservation Service/USDA
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Droughts like California's may be creating a wave of climate refugees that will be looking for places like Utah that are flush with water.

  Imagine a time when Utah’s flooded – not with water but Californians and other people trying to flee the effects of climate change.

It’s one of the uncertainties about Utah’s water, thanks to climate change and an issue being discussed at the Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium in West Valley City.

Rob Davies, a researcher and educator with the Utah Climate Center, says planning for an unexpected surge in climate refugees is a possibility that Utahns probably should be talking about more.

“As we move forward in considering our water issues here in Utah, we absolutely cannot ignore what’s happening in the world around us,” he said at Thursday’s plenary.

Utah’s statewide population is already expected to double in the next few decades, so preparing for the influx peppered the discussion at this year’s Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium. Utah can expect around 9 percent less water from the Colorado River Basin. University of Utah water expert Dan McCool says the question is what Utah values more: unchecked growth or quality of life.

“The limit to growth in this valley may be the later,” he says, “where you just can’t breathe the air, it’s miserable and we don’t like living here any more.”

Population was a recurring theme at the 9th annual symposium.

“Population growth is very significant to not only water quantity but the water resources,” says Marian Hubbard-Rice, a scientist and planner for Salt Lake County. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Other topics on the agenda through Thursday include a variety of water-related issues like reducing pollution, wise water use and the value of wetlands.

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