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. 

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Someone was thinking about you in 1973. They knew you would be in the Salt Lake Valley, and they knew you would need access to water and probably guessed you would need a good talking to about water conservation.

Water planners work on a 50-year horizon, and while they knew the rate of population growth would vary, planners of the past anticipated our current population and water supply projects were scaled to meet the anticipated demand.

So, what are the planners today putting into place for 2073? They are looking at how to balance the books when it comes to our water account. We are looking at a dramatic increase in population without our water supply matching the increase. Our population is expected to increase by 66% over the next 40 years, with over 80% of that growth along the Wasatch Front.

“Continuing as we have been for the last 50 years is simply not an option going forward,” said Alan Packard, General Manager, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District. “The need to change our water use patterns is a certainty, but how we adapt is a choice.”

Most of the water suitable for drinking along the Wasatch Front is used to irrigate landscapes, with single-family residential comprising the greatest category of demand. (See graphic below.) This week, we will explore how cities and water providers are working together to reduce the impact of growth on our water supply.

Residents need to realize the cleanest, most easily accessible, and least environmentally impactful water supplies are already in use. Planning will need to take into consideration new technologies, infrastructure sources, and consider moving water from further distances to reach the needs.

Then, they need to remember this comes at a cost. Each new gallon of water supply will be substantially more expensive than water currently in our systems. Water conservation is a critical element to preserving affordability into the future.

Growth has the greatest impact on water systems. As such, it is the first place to look at changes. Cities are responsible for land use, density, and aesthetic decisions and must work closely with water districts to implement local plans that work towards conservation efforts.

“Every land use decision is a water use decision,” explains Packard.

Cities within the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and in many other parts of the state have created ordinances and standards designed to prevent inefficient water use in new developments. The standards are there to reduce demand through efficient practices. The standards are not just residential but run across the board to residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional developments. Residential indoor and outdoor use generates the highest per-capita use – over 65%.

“Water security for the future will depend on balancing supply and demand in each region of the state. There is no single water user group or action that can solve for all variables,” reminds Packard. “We’ll have to work creatively and collaboratively, across all water use sectors, to ensure a secure water future for our children and grandchildren.”

Most standards affect new construction and development, but because of incentives and education opportunities for any land-use type, owners can offset the expenses of retrofitting their properties for efficient water use.

“We’re in a ‘choose your change’ moment. Now is the time to make clearheaded decisions about the future.” said Packard. “It is an inevitable reality that we must bring our water supply demand and our water supply budget into balance, but how we accomplish this necessary adjustment is a choice. “

Starting at home is a great way to make an impact. One small fairly inexpensive way to help is to upgrade old indoor water fixtures to more efficient ones. Look for fixtures labeled “WaterSense.”

There are resources throughout the state to help in making larger water-wise decisions. You can visit community learning gardens, check out the Utah Water Savers website, and talk to your local city planners to find out what standards they are implementing in your community.

Many cities throughout the state have already adopted recommended water-efficiency standards, and others are currently in the process. Find out if your city has completed the process and, if not, encourage them to adopt the efficiency standards.

Making changes incrementally prevents more costly drought or crisis-forced measures. The next 50 years of planning is already underway, but it will require all Utah residents to commit to Be Water Wise.