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State facilities will reduce water use 25% by 2026 under new bill

University of Utah sign on campus
Bob Nelson
State facilities in Utah, including universities, would have to reduce outdoor water use under a bill being debated in the Legislature.

All new state facilities in Utah may be required to have less than 20% turf. A water conservation bill currently in the Legislature would also require the state to reduce outdoor water use.

Existing state facilities will need to cut outdoor water use 5% by 2023 and 25% by 2026, under H.B. 121. The bill passed the House last week and a Senate committee Thursday.

Backers of the bill say the severe drought in Utah needs to be addressed, and the state needs to take the lead.

“I think that we have to start somewhere in the conversation regarding conservation,” said Brian Steed, the executive director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. “One of the things that I love about this bill is that it puts the state in the driver's seat to show that small change is going to have big, big differences in terms of water use over time.”

The bill would also offer rebates for homeowners to replace their lawns with drought-resistant landscaping. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, said it’s so people look where grass— and often water — is being wasted, like park strips. The bill allows people to receive up to 50% of the lawn replacement cost from the state.

“The only time you walk on [a park strip] is when you mow it,” Spendlove said.

Some environmental groups testified in support of the bill Thursday, including Nick Schou from Western Resource Advocates. He said both parts of the bill complement each other.

“This is a very needed step,” he said. “I really appreciate having the state show its leadership in these facilities before asking others to do that and then really hoping to incentivize wise water practices through this turf buyback program.”

Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zach Frankel said this is a good “baby step,” but wishes it went further.

“For the state facilities, it's too bad that it's only for new facilities. We don't see any reason why it shouldn't be for existing facilities,” he said.

Frankel called the conservation goals a “silver lining” of the bill since 25% by 2026 is “substantial savings.”

This is one of several water bills going through the state Legislature. Some others have to do with secondary metering, instream water flows and the Utah Lake.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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