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Water Priorities: Draft Plan Heads For Completion Amid Criticism

Deciding how much water should be shifted from farms to municipal use is one of the key issues in the discussion of Utah's water future, according to a report being prepared by the Governor's Water Strategy Task Force.

A state task force is polishing its report to Gov. Gary Herbert on preparing for Utah’s future water needs. Some environmentalists are criticizing the group for snubbing public input.

The work of the 38 people on the Governor’s Water Strategy Task Force is nearing an end, and members met to get their first look Tuesday at a report they’re hoping to finalize by the year’s end.

“It’s all coming together at a time that Utahns all recognize that water is a crucial issue,” said Richard Bay, a task force member and general manager of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.

Suggestions for conservation and smarter water management – top priorities for the environmental community -- lead the 49 strategies listed in the draft report.

The 12th proposal on the list is developing regional water projects “when they are needed.”

But dozens in the audience Tuesday had come to fight recommendations to build the billion-dollar Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project. They protested after learning the overall strategy won’t be distributed publicly until its done.

“The governor did not say, ‘Go into a room, don’t let the public in, don’t let any input from the – and, wait, let me finish – and then give me a report without public input,” Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council said to task force co-chair Warren Peterson after the meeting.

Task force members like Peterson say they have been fielding input from all Utahns – not just insiders -- for four years.

“Open meetings, polls, online comments, submissions to the task force members,” he said, I’m, I’m at a loss to know how we could have been more inclusive.”

The task force did not include a representative of the Utah Rivers Council but did include other conservation groups like the Great Basin Water Network and Friends of Great Salt Lake.

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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