Utah's Uncertain Water Future | KUED.org

Utah has always dwelled on water. Streams that tumbled from the mountains. Rivers that fed lush ribbons of green across the redrock landscape. Springs that created tufts of Eden in the desert. Those waters sustained the very first Utahns, the Paiutes and other Native American people who had lived here for millennia. And then it coaxed Mormon pioneers into the rugged intersection of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin and the Colorado River Basin.

It’s no different today, except that a growing population and the uncertainty posed by climate change make the discussion urgent.

For more than a century, we’ve built dams and ditches -- channeling, moving and extracting water to sustain our lives. The amount of water in the world has remained constant. But we expect water on demand. Always.

Three million people live in Utah today and our population is almost certain to double in just a few decades. We already find ourselves in a challenging new era for water, one that endangers hopeful plans for Utah’s future. Will there be enough water to meet demands?

In the southwestern part of the state, that question is playing out in real time. The challenges, decisions and opportunities are close at hand.

Filled with the belief that they were doing God's work, Utah’s pioneers solved their water problems by rolling up their sleeves. Their grit and determination built a legacy that echoes even today.

Mike Styler keeps them in mind as he leads water management efforts statewide. He’s executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources now, but he grew up on a central Utah farm.

“Yeah, that's been ingrained with me,” he says. “Without the life blood of water and catching it when it comes in the spring and holding it for later use -- without that, we're in trouble.”

The specter of water shortages in the nation’s second-driest state is sobering. And, if projections are right, twice as many people will live in Utah in just 45 years. That means more stress on an already strained resource.

Mike Styler, the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, is the son of a farmer and water company president. In this clip, he recounts a childood memory of what people would do to defend their rights to water.

It’s a renewable resource. I think the more accurate way to say it would be: Utah’s growing very fast, and there’s not any new water to be allocated."
~Mike Styler, Executive Director, Utah Division of Natural Resources

Styler says we’re not running out of water.

“It’s a renewable resource,he says. “I think the more accurate way to say it would be: Utah’s growing very fast, and there’s not any new water to be allocated."

“Just because the number of people increase and the number of businesses increase doesn't mean that the water will increase.  It just has to be used more judiciously and priorities have to be made as to who gets the water.”

Farms and ranches use more than 82 percent of the state’s water. Homes and industry use the rest.