Controversial Utah water audit just released, findings causing concern

Posted at 9:46 AM, May 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-05 22:49:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY - Officials have just released a controversial audit of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

Government officials said legislators from both sides called for the audit after claims the division opposed water conservation for fears it could reduce water revenues for water sellers.

Critics also accuse the division of inflating future water needs to scare the public into spending billions on water projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project.

MORE: Click here to see what the water audit found

The Utah Rivers Council said the audit comes at a critical time; the Division of Water Resources is asking for billions in tax increases at the Utah legislature for these projects.

A Coalition of groups called for the audit including Utah Rivers Council, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, Citizen’s for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Taxpayer Association of Kane County, Colorado Riverkeeper Living Rivers, HEAL Utah and Utah Environmental Congress.

The audit from the Utah Legislature found a few key concerns:

1. The division does not have reliable local water use data. The audit stated there were "significant inaccuracies" in the division's data.

2. The division needs an improved process for ensuring water data is reliable. The audit states the Division of Natural Resources should take a leading role in coordinating efforts between the Division of Water Resources and the Division of Water Rights to improve the process of getting accurate water use data.

3. The audit questions the reliability of the division's baseline water use study. The audit states the division's study projecting Utah's future water needs was based on old data from 1992 to  1999, which may not be an accurate representation of Utah's future water needs.

4. Conservation will lead to less water use. The audit questions the division’s projected water demand which assumes Utah residents will consume on average 220 gallons per day through the year 2060. The audit says the study used to determine that was based on old data. Also, ongoing water conservation trends will continue which should bring down need.

5. Some regions can reduce water use more than the statewide goal of 25 percent. The audit states that would also lower the projected water need reported by the Water Resources Division.

6. State policies on metering and pricing can affect water demand. According to the audit, Utah’s relatively low water cost appears to contribute to higher water use when compared with other states. Unless per capita water use is reduced, new, more costly sources of supply will need to be developed. As pressures on Utah’s currently developed supply intensify, local and state policymakers will need to consider policy options to reduce demand, including universal metering and water pricing.

7. Division projections should include expected local water development. The division’s projections of future water use do not include growth in the state’s water supply beyond what was already developed in 2010, with a few exceptions.

8. Good Basin plans should be the basis for better statewide planning. The audit states most of the division’s basin plans do not estimate the growth in the region’s water supply. The basin plans also understate the amount of agriculture water available for municipal use. The audit recommends the division update its basin plans on a more regular basis.

The Division of Water Resources sent Fox 13 this response to the audit:

The Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Division of Water Resources (DWRe) appreciate the Legislative Auditor General’s staff and the considerable efforts they took during the audit process to assess the effectiveness of DWRe data practices. We recognize the great lengths they took to gather and analyze the information.

Utah faces a number of complex water-related issues. Not only are we the second driest state in the nation, but our population is expected to double by 2060. Additionally, our water supply is currently used near capacity and will become even more strained moving forward, as our population increases and our climate changes.

The responsibility to ensure Utah’s families, environment and businesses have enough water is one DWRe takes seriously. Implementing the audit recommendations will strengthen our processes. State water projections are based on water use and supply data reported from hundreds of water providers throughout Utah. The audit revealed differing levels of accuracy within each water provider’s reporting can result in the under- or over-estimating of supply and demand reports.

DWRe is committed to gathering the most comprehensive and accurate data available. The division will work with the Legislature to propose standardized data collection practices, quality control measures and the authority to hold water providers accountable to report accurate data. Requests for additional resources will be made to the Legislature so water use data can be collected annually, instead of every five years.

DWRe is also committed to making water conservation one of Utah’s long-term ethics. However, the state cannot solve its water challenges through conservation alone. DWRe believes a multifaceted water strategy is necessary to meet future growth and to avoid challenges like those currently affecting California.

Utahns are encouraged to meet Gov. Gary R. Herbert’s goal of 25 percent water conservation by 2025 and we anticipate meeting that goal this year, ten years early. This effort has led Utahns to conserve approximately 58 billion gallons of water; enough to more than fill Starvation Reservoir. While these results are considered a success, Utah can conserve more. We challenge Utahns to use recommendations provided at and

DWRe is currently building phase two conservation strategies that extend beyond the State’s initial goal of 25 percent. Future strategies will continue to promote efficiency, educate families and encourage simple life changes. However, they will also introduce programs that further advance Utah’s water conservation efforts, including programs to address needed state water facility upgrades; more robust conservation rebates; metering of secondary water systems and enhancements to county and local development landscaping policies.

Finding solutions to tomorrow’s water problems requires our attention and resources today. Thankfully the audit has helped identify some of the areas where we can improve, including how and when DWRe data is collected and the future expansion of Utah’s conservation efforts. While we are committed to improving these areas, Utah’s water challenges will only be solved through collaborative and cooperative relationships between state agencies, the Legislature and dozens of public, private and special interest organizations concerned about Utah’s water challenges. By working together we will find the best solutions.