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Amid Growing Need And Shrinking Supply, Utah Committee Presents 50-Year Water Plan to Governor

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Over 200 pages long, Utah’s 50-year water strategy -- presented to the Governor on Wednesday -- aims to direct Utah business and government leaders on water management for the foreseeable future.

Noted as one of the most daunting challenges facing the state, Governor Gary Herbert addressed two certainties during the water strategy presentation.

“One, we have, in fact, swings in the climate. We have had droughts in the past, we will have droughts in the future and we need to anticipate what that’s going to be like as we go forward,” he said. “And the second thing is -- that I can just tell you is absolutely certain, and that is Utah is going to continue to grow and grow dramatically.”

Utah, the second driest state in the U.S., expects 2.5 million more people by 2050. Robert Gillies, director of the Utah Climate Center and state climatologist, says that water scarcity will only become more complicated.

“Water law in the West is incredibly complex and to be able to change that I don’t think will be a very easy thing to do,” Gillies said. “But change it in the face of a changing climate is also adding complexity upon complexity.”

Developed by a 41-member committee in association with Envision Utah, the plan’s recommendations include prioritizing sustainable water use, controlling water quality, and maintaining and replacing water infrastructure. It also suggests greater administrative powers for the state engineer.

While the strategy was released Wednesday, it is still a work-in-progress. The strategy stresses the need for continued research, funding and public engagement to better advise state policymakers.

“We’re talking 50-years-plus into the future, so it’s not necessarily going to be easy. The challenges we face are real,” Herbert said. “They are significant. Tough choices are going to be a part of that but those are tough choices we can make.”

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