Two Utah engineering firms are partnering to improve the quality of water-use data in the state. The firms will use a $300,000 contract with the state to analyze how the Division of Water Resources can improve its data collection.
Water-use data is more important than ever
Utah is one of the driest states in the nation; usually only second to Nevada. With a population that is expected to nearly double by 2060, meeting Utah’s growing water needs is a major concern. Water-use data is paramount to project water needs in the decades to come. Improving data collection can help Utah manage its limited resources.
However, a 2015 Legislative audit found that a patchwork of 475 community water systems were not always accountable or accurate in submitting water-use data. Records showed that one community in the Bear River basin had not reported any data since 2002. Other communities failed to break out categories for water use, relied on estimates when meters were unavailable, or simply got calculations wrong.
Efforts to improve water-use data collection
Since then, state legislators have acted to give regulators more power to force systems to report. In 2016 the Division of Water Rights received additional funding to put an employee in the field. The goal is to work with public water providers to encourage reporting and identify obstacles. Additionally, Utah lawmakers directed the Division of Drinking Water to develop a point system. Water providers are assessed points if they fail to report water-use data, or if the data is falsified. With enough points, the water system could be deemed unsafe.
Improving water-use data will also help the state develop new water resources. Utah is working to initiate two large water development projects. The Lake Powell pipeline and plans to divert water from Bear River could help with Utah’s water demands. However both plans have met with some resistance. The high cost and potential environmental concerns have brought the projects under close scrutiny. Governor Gary Herbert has made it clear that improving water-use data collecting is a prerequisite to large water resource development.
Both engineering firms are helping the Division of Water Resources analyze the 2015 data. They are expected to present a report to the division sometime in December. The report should help Utah revisit those numbers and improve collection of water-use data going forward.