SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Utah’s population grew at 18.4 percent or 507,731 residents in the last ten years — the fastest rate in the nation.

The growth is having a substantial impact on our state with a housing shortage, increased traffic on major roadways, more pollution in the air, heightened demand for resources, and more. Over the next week, we will explore how population growth affects different areas of our state, with a different theme each night for our IN FOCUS discussions that include agriculture/open lands, transportation, air quality, water/drought, and housing.

Envision Utah reports that Utah is the third driest state in the nation, with water having to be shared between municipal, agriculture, and recreation/wildfire use. Utah is already under extreme drought for another consecutive year. They say climate change will force us to adapt to how we manage our water, because the state will get hotter with more rain and less snow. Northern Utah will likely get more precipitation, but Southern Utah will get less. Evapotranspiration will increase, while snowpack will likely decrease. Researchers believe we can accommodate our project population growth over the next several decades but will need to be wise with our water use.

Experts say everyone from businesses to individuals can do their part to help with the state’s water conservation efforts. The place that may be the simplest to cut back is outdoor watering, which makes up two-thirds of our municipal use. There are three parts to that strategy, which include looking at how/when we water, what plants we are watering, and how much land we are watering. Individuals can be water-smart by getting a smart controller, cut back on their use, follow the Utah Division of Water Resources’ recommendations, swap out your sprinkles and landscaping, and find a rebate program.

Ari Bruening, president and CEO of Envision Utah joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. He explained where our state ranks nationally when it come to the drought, what it looks like moving forward, how climate change impacts our drought conditions in the state, whether we’ll have enough water with all the growth, if we’re at a reckoning where we need to reconsider our water usage, and what we can do on a statewide level to increase our water supply.

Darren Hess, assistant general manager and COO of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District talked about his agency and their responsibilities, how our water sources are doing right now, the challenges with allocation and pricing of water, how they implement their water plans, what usage looks like in the next decade or two, how fast our groundwater is being used and what happens when it’s gone, and how we can get the water levels of the Great Salt Lake back up.

Warren Peterson, retired land and natural resources vice president for Farmland Reserve, Inc. shared his experience in the water industry, what gets produced from all the water used by the agriculture industry, whether farmers should cut back on their water use and how they would do it, and what the farming industry is most concerned about right now.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Bruening, Hess, and Peterson, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.