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Utah's governor releases water action plan for agriculture

Posted at 4:00 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 19:56:19-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Governor Spencer Cox's office on Wednesday released an action plan for how the state handles agriculture's water use.

Agriculture is the single largest user of water in Utah.

"We recognize that 75% of the diverted water goes to agriculture, so it’s a really important piece of the puzzle," said Candice Hasenyager, the director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

The multi-agency report leans heavily on agriculture optimization. That's using new technologies to efficiently irrigate crops and save water. Farmers that have implemented the new systems have told FOX 13 News they have recorded savings of about one-third of what they usually would use.

But the report said it would cost a lot of money to fully build out — as much as $6 billion.

"It will take a significant investment in agricultural optimization to implement statewide," Hasenyager said.

The report defended alfalfa (a water hogging crop) in desert-dry Utah because of the global economy. It also said that more people are demanding local agriculture.

Gov. Cox's coordinated action plan calls for leaning on laws the legislature recently passed including water banking, in-stream flows, water quality programs, and more education about how water rights work in the state. It also pursues additional resources on best practices for agriculture and conservation.

Environmental groups FOX 13 News spoke with said they were studying the plan. While some were not opposed to the ideas, they wanted more specifics on how the initiatives would be implemented.

"If Governor Cox truly cares about water conservation and the future of Utahns, his administration would meet with critics of Utah’s water policies," Zachary Frankel, the executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said in a statement.

Frankel said the plan still backs pipeline projects and doesn't go far enough to getting water into the Great Salt Lake.

"Utah’s agricultural lands are being rapidly developed and turned into municipal landscapes, yet the Governor’s water plan failed to address Utah’s failure to protect its farmlands. Utah loses some 30 acres of farmland each day, but the Governor and the Utah Legislature have failed to protect Utah’s working farmlands in the face of rapid urban development," he said.

The report is one in a series of action plans the governor's office has released about ways to handle water and promote conservation. But those plans do cost money. The legislature appropriated a half-billion this year for water conservation measures (including $40 million to get water into the Great Salt Lake).

Hasenyager told FOX 13 News it is likely more money will be needed.

"I think that’s one thing the drought has taught us is that we do need significant and continued investments into our water," she said. "Whether it’s water planning, infrastructure, agriculture optimization. It’s a huge piece of our economy and really our ability to stay here, so I think it’s critical to have that continued investment."

The report is one of a series the governor's office has released on water. The next one is due out in October on watersheds in Utah. The other action plans on communities and infrastructure can be found here.

Read the plan here: