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Utah spends $190 million to enact statewide water conservation measures

Posted at 3:19 PM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 19:45:23-04

A little known, but very important state board went through money like it was water on Thursday — all to enact some new conservation measures across Utah.

The Utah Water Resources Board approved spending $190 million in communities across the state to implement secondary water metering.

"In the state of Utah today, water as we know is the most important issue," said Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, who is the Utah Department of Natural Resources' acting executive director.

The board considered 70 different applications for grants and loans to offset the costs of installing secondary water metering devices, which measure how much outdoor watering a household does. Cities that have already implemented them have reported to the state instant water savings.

"We've found that by installing secondary meters and telling people how much they’re using, they reduce their water use by 20 and 30%, which is huge," said Candice Hasenyager, the executive director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

The Utah State Legislature earlier this year voted to mandate the secondary water metering be implemented statewide by 2030. The devices aren't cheap, which is why the state is dipping into federal COVID relief funds to help communities offset the costs. Grants and loans approved on Thursday were for up to 70% of the costs for communities, which will have to install thousands of them per city.

"This is an opportune moment right now because there are funds available," said Charles Holmgren, a member of the water resources board representing the Bear River area. "In the future, the mandate will come down and there may or may not be funds available."

One member of a local water board raised questions about supply chain and labor shortages and if that would hurt the availability of funds. Afterward, Ron Mortensen, who said he was speaking for himself and not the South Davis Water Trust, raised concerns about passing along costs to consumers.

"Even with 70%, it’s a 30% unfunded mandate," he told FOX 13 News. "It’s very difficult for us because it will cost $855 dollars per connection that’s unfunded."

Hasenyager said the board would work with communities on spending criteria and problems that may come up in the future.

But secondary water metering has been defended as a measure to get more Utahns to conserve as the state deals with unprecedented growth and drought.

"It’s going to help a great deal by giving people an awareness of the amount of water they’re using," Holmgren said. "So they can see how they can actually conserve water and preserve it for others or the coming water years."

While initially designed to be educational, there is the potential down the road for the meters to charge residential users based on how much water they actually used. Hasenyager said one community did try to implement that, but it didn't end well.

"There was one effort in a city in northern Utah who did start charging," she said. "All their residences weren’t metered so there was a bit of a controversy where half were getting charged more than the other half, so there was a pause on it."

The Utah Water Resources Board handed out $190 million on Thursday. More grant and loan money will be implemented in the coming months.