Officials say Washington County needs second source of water in 10 years

ST. GEORGE — In a virtual open house held by state water officials promoting a new water resources plan drafted by the Utah Division of Water Resources, it was estimated that Washington County has 10 years before demand outstrips the available water supply if a secondary source is not found.

Candice Hasenyager, director of the state’s water division, speaks about the state’s proposed water resources plan, Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 20, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Water Resources, St. George News

The virtual meeting was held Wednesday and also streamed over YouTube for individuals interested in seeing how Utah water managers propose to tackle the state’s water needs over the coming decades.

“The purpose of this plan is to look 50 years into the future and provide a comprehensive look at Utah’s water resources (and) a summary of the challenges and actions the Division of Water Resources can do to address them,” Candice Hasenyager, director of the state’s water division, said Wednesday. “This is not a drought response plan.”

The plan focuses on the three principles of reliable data, water supply security and promoting a healthy environment. These principles are then broken down across 18 goals the plan aims to achieve by 2065, Hasenyager said.

A reason for the plan’s creation is to address water needs being brought on by Utah’s continuing growth, she said, adding the U.S. Census ranked Utah as the fastest growing state for the last decade. Studies conducted by the Kem C. Gardner Institute have also estimated the state population will double by 2065.

“Securing a reliable source water supply for the future requires a comprehensive approach,” Hasenyager said, adding that conservation, continuing water project development and other factors are required. “Pretty much, we do everything to meet our future population and water demands.”

The draft water resources plan highlights three possible scenarios among many concerning what Utah’s water could look like 50 years based on: whether no changes were made, a baseline model that takes climate change and growth models into account, and if that state meets its regional conservation goals.

Candice Hasenyager, director of the state’s water division, shares a graph showing Washington County’s water supply could run out in 5-10 years, Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 20, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Water Resources, St. George News

A graph in the resources plan shared during the open house featured water supply and demand in Washington and Kane counties based on the three scenarios and that showed both counties running out of water between 2025 and 2030.

“We can see they need the water much sooner,” Hasenyager said.

An online meeting participant who identified themselves as a Washington County resident pointed out the graph’s water supply forecast during the meeting’s Q-and-A session, which prompted a reply from Joel Williams, a project manager for the Utah Division of Water Resources.

The graph uses water data from 2015, Williams said. It did not take into account current and future conservation advances or additions made to southwest Utah’s water supply through additional water infrastructure development, he said.

“We do anticipate having additional water supply (in Washington County),” Williams said. “Ten years could be reasonable. Beyond that is when it really shows a need for additional water.”

As the Washington County Water Conservancy District uses the same methodologies when determining local water use and demand, Williams’ prediction sounds accurate, said Karry Rathje, the water district’s communications manager who spoke to St. George News on Friday.

Joel Williams, a project manager for the Utah Division of Water Resources, says Washington County has at least 10 years of water left before a second source needs to be found, Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 20, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Water Resources, St. George News

“We are working diligently to make sure we don’t run out of water. That is our goal,” she said. “The most important thing for our residents to remember is that we do have a limited water resource.”

That resource is the Virgin River, which had historically low flows this past years due to the ongoing drought, Rathje said. If Washington County is able to get the Lake Powell Pipeline within the next decade, it will “significantly enhance the available water supply,” she said.

Both local and state water managers are hoping that additional water will come in the form of the Lake Powell Pipeline.

While the pipeline project had begun to move forward through a federal approval process last year, six other states that share the Colorado River with Utah protested it, which has paused that progress as it undergoes additional review. Opponents of the project argue the Colorado River is already over-allocated and that there isn’t water left to spare for the pipeline.

Todd Stonely, assistant director of planning for the Utah Division of Water Resources, said the projections of the Bureau of Reclamation predict that water flow on the Colorado River will drop by 9% over the next 50-plus years due to climate change. Additional studies conducted by other water agencies within the state have come up with similar projections for their own water supplies.

While Utah water managers were making plans to compensate for the projected reduction of water on the Colorado River, which was subject to a water shortage declaration early this year, Lake Powell Pipeline opponents have declared they do not believe that “St. George is going to get its pipeline.”

Additional information on the Utah Water Resources Plan and details on how to comment can be found on the Utah Division of Water Resources website.

The public comment period will last through Nov. 15.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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