Who can implement this: State, county, and city lawmakers; water conservancy districts; and infrastructure-funding boards
Expanding and building water infrastructure will bring more high-quality water to farms and ranches and help Utah provide food to its growing population. Some areas in Utah County do not have enough irrigation water to make farming viable, and in some areas the water quality is not good enough to sustain orchards or other high-value crops. For example, Cedar Valley contains many viable agricultural lands that are not farmable because there is no available water in the valley. The cost of building and expanding water infrastructure projects can be prohibitive, but if the projects are carefully planned and executed they can provide new farming opportunities in areas that currently have limited water availability and increase the amount of high-functioning agricultural lands available in the county and state.
Water use in the future must be balanced between agricultural and residential use. Future water infrastructure projects should coordinate with planned residential growth in order to cut back on construction costs and to use the water as efficiently as possible. One stakeholder mentioned that “agriculture can’t pay for every water infrastructure project; people need to realize that these projects will benefit the entire region in the future.”
As communities convert agricultural lands into urban lands, the water infrastructure that existed to primarily service farms needs to be adapted to provide water not only to the remaining farms, but also to the new homes and businesses. Careful planning is important to appropriately balance water use and to meet all of the water needs from users in a community.
Utah’s Water Quality Revolving Fund is an important resource for funding key water-conservation and increased-efficiency strategies. This fund helps finance state projects including pipeline construction, ditch lining, and other projects. As legislative focus has shifted to other areas, money for this revolving fund has been lacking in recent years.
Reusing water will likely become an increasingly important strategy to balance the water needs of agricultural producers in the county with the needs of growing numbers of residential and commercial users. High-quality water is expensive, and reusing water can be a cost-effective and efficient way to increase quality water supplies. For water reuse to become more viable in Utah County, existing water infrastructure systems must be evaluated and made more efficient. Impacts on downstream users also need to be considered.
Utah County and individual cities could explore the viability of establishing local funds to match the offerings from the state Water Quality Revolving Fund. This additional funding for key water projects could increase the efficiency of agricultural and residential water use across Utah County and the state. Some support exists on the federal level for rural agricultural infrastructure projects, and matching that support at the county and state level would help bring water to unirrigated soils in Utah County.
- It is recommended that county and city lawmakers establish smaller-scale funds for water or agriculture-based projects in Utah County.
- These local funds could then be matched by the state Water Quality Revolving Fund to pay for crucial water projects that will improve water management and conservation in different regions.
- Water infrastructure projects suggested by communities, lawmakers, and regional water agencies would then receive needed funding. These projects could range from increasing water efficiency to expanding the amount of agricultural lands in Utah County.
- State agencies should explore reusing water as a way to increase agricultural water supplies across the state. These agencies should also create specific regulations to ensure the quality and responsible use of reused water.
- Water organizations and state agencies should look for ways to improve the existing water-distribution system by reducing the amount of water lost through evaporation, pipe leaks, ground seepage, etc.
The Central Utah Water Conservancy District encourages water conservation through rebates, loans, and programs that promote new water projects in Utah County and southern Salt Lake County. In Utah County, the conservancy district has mainly focused on upgrading the Utah Valley Water Treatment Plant to provide municipal and irrigation water to communities.
In 2005, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District’s Central Water Development Project (CWP) helped to provide water to Cedar Valley. The district purchased water rights from the former Geneva Steel Company and combined them with other ground and surface-water rights. As a result, more water was brought to an area that had previously limited water supplies for farming. The increased amount of water also helped the towns of Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs grow.
The 2015 Utah Senate Bill 216 allows the Office of Energy Development to issue a tax credit to an entity developing a high-cost infrastructure project. This provision could incentivize the development of agricultural water projects and increase water delivery to potential farming areas.
Because agricultural water supplies are being stressed by the demands of expanding residential and municipal development, California agricultural producers are increasingly looking into reusing water to meet irrigation demands. State departments have outlined specific regulations for the quality of recycled water in order to mitigate negative effects on human and environmental health. In 2007, California’s Sea Mist farms was the biggest user of recycled water in the world, and their studies showed that their use of recycled water resulted in soil and crop quality that was essentially parallel with those of a neighboring control site.