This story is part of our Be Water Wise series. Each week we will be educating Utahns on water usage and conservation. Special thanks to The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and Cynthia Bee for helping coordinate information from the state water districts.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Ever since Brigham Young looked out from his carriage and proclaimed the Salt Lake Valley the place for the early Mormon Pioneers, there were a few things that had to happen to turn the valley into the paradise Young saw. The big one – water.
Most early pioneers in Utah had successfully farmed in more humid climates. When the water was finally found, the work to get it to the residents had to begin in Salt Lake.
“The early pioneers, including Brigham Young, recognized that after air, water was the most important resource needed for their survival. As Utah was settled, the use of a reasonable amount of water for purposes that benefitted the public became the standard for when and how much water could be taken from streams and rivers,” reports Mark Stratford, General Council, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. “In order to support these ‘beneficial uses,’ facilities had to be developed to irrigate crops and bring water resources to populated areas.”
The problem is not much different today. Water districts still have the job to get water from sources to the residents of Utah. Infrastructures have to be built and maintained for ‘beneficial uses.’ Water continues to be owned by the public but government entities as well as private irrigation companies have put into place the processes to deliver the water such as canals, pipelines, and reservoirs.
Our pioneer forebearers realized quite early these investments would need to be protected and no one person needed to appropriate the water for selfish reasons. In the book Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young is quoted as saying, “There shall be no private ownership of the streams that come out of the canyons, nor the timber that grows on the hills. These belong to the people: all the people.”
Early settlers in the Western United States adopted a “prior appropriation” or “first-in-time, firs-in-right,” method of water appropriation. And while this protected individuals and their rights to use water, it also facilitated making the arid west habitable. It also guaranteed domestic, municipal, and agricultural needs were met before water was dispersed for non-beneficial uses.
This meant Utah set to work laying pipe, digging canals, building dams, and going through trial and error to understand the ways of water in the desert they inhabited.
Stratford goes on to explain, “It is important that Utah continues to support and maintain the prior appropriation doctrine going into the future. The advantages of reliability and certainty associated with beneficial use and prior appropriation make it easier to address new water challenges.”
Keeping these appropriations in place is a system that continues to work in the distribution efforts of water districts today.
“As we change our emphasis on where and how water is used,” Stratford continues, “the success of those changes will largely depend on the same protections that allowed the pioneers to produce food and fiber and successfully establish thriving communities.”
So from wooden pipes and hand-dug canals to high-quantity filter systems and underground distribution, the water is the same as well as the beneficial needs. Our water districts are helping larger numbers and greater demographics to get, keep and use the water in our great state.
Take time this Pioneer Day to think about how you can conserve and use water in the most beneficial ways. If you need tips and hints visit the Localscapes website of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.