Judy Fahys


Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.

Ways To Connect

Gary Turnier / KUED

Here at milepost 80 in Enoch on 1-15 state geologists are inspecting a sinkhole on the right of way. They first spotted this jagged crack last year in images from a remote sensing survey.

“Yeah. You’re right,” says Bill Lund, senior scientist for the Utah Geological survey, speaking to a colleague. “There could be some displacement going on. And it looks like the prairie dogs have found it.”

Water managers have a chart that shows Utah’s water demands will outstrip supplies by 2040 and say it shows why the state should start expensive water development projects now.

The Legislature’s auditors spent more than a year basically fact-checking that chart, and at a hearing Tuesday they informed lawmakers important decisions about Utah’s water are being made with unreliable data.

Judy Fahys/KUER

In a parched corner of the nation's second driest state, the Virgin River delivers life-giving water to wildlife, farms and increasing numbers of people.

Ron Thompson sees a future when four times as many people could be living here in St. George, and they’ll need more water than the Virgin can provide. That’s why he wants the Lake Powell Pipeline.

Citizens for Dixie’s Future says Washington and Kane counties can conserve enough water to avert the need for the costly Lake Powell Pipeline. Instead, this local conservation group supports the Local Waters Alternative plan developed by Western Resource Advocates, which details a management plan that would cost less and deliver sufficient water to provide for about four times as many people in southwestern Utah in the next 35 years. Pipeline supporters say this approach would crimp quality of life, economic development and population.

The Salt Lake Chamber announced its Water is Your Business program in the summer of 2014. The idea is to educate and motivate Utah's politically powerful business community to recognize how important water is to their bottom line. This fact sheet says more than $30 billion in water projects are needed to meet future demands. That figure includes everything from updated pipes and pumps in local communities to big-ticket endeavors like the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project in northern Utah.

The Utah Division of Water Resources was tapped by the state Legislature in 2006 to pursue the Lake Powell Pipeline, and an application is due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the spring of 2016. So far, the state has spent $25 million putting together the application, which considers financial and cultural resources as well as engineering designs.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District would take over the Lake Powell Pipeline once the state Division of Water Resources finances and builds it. District managers say its crucial to tap 88,000 acre-feet of Colorado river water for Washington and Kane counties -- not just because southwestern Utah is expected to quadruple in population over the next few decades but also to tap Utah's unused share of Colorado River water.

The Utah Foundation's published an in-depth overview of Utah's water situation last fall, "Flowing Toward 2050." It includes data on the fees water customers pay in various cities, including one in Utah. A common criticism of Utah's water utilities is that they charge too little to trigger conservation, and they muddle the true cost of water by using property taxes -- instead of usage fees -- to pay for water supply and delivery systems.  

Subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley, Calif., documented in a USGS report.

Wikipedia has developed this chart to show how the Colorado River is allocated. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has published the text of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The document was developed at a time when the river was flush, and there has been less water to share -- among users and the environment -- as demands on the water supplies have grown.

The Utah Rivers Council contends that phasing out property taxes for water would trigger conservation -- of water and money -- throughout the state. Even conservatives have criticized water-fee policies for promoting consumption rather than conservation. Meanwhile, the public and industry are making inroads on a statewide goal of reducing water use 25 percent by 2025.

The Colorado River Basin was divided into the Upper and Lower basins in the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Utah is part of the Upper Basin, along with Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The Lower Basin includes Arizona, Nevada and California. For decades, lower-basin states have been making use of Colorado River water that upper-basin states aren't capturing.

"Dream" by Jay Eubanks

May 3, 2015

Jay Eubanks bought property in Enoch as an investment only to discover that groundwater mining was making the ground around his house collapse and causing the city to declare his investment home uninhabitable. It's called "subsidence" and it's cropping up around the state in places where aquifers are being overdrawn. When reporter Judy Fahys asked Eubanks what he did to unwind from stress like this, he told her he makes music. This is the song that emerged from his ordeal.  

Started out with a dream
To take a chance on a new way
A little luck to make a better day
Get some freedom
Live the way that I wanna be


Governor Gary Herbert says he’s still not sure people have a role in causing climate change.

A reporter asked Utah’s Republican governor on Thursday whether Utah’s lean snowpack and possible water shortages are the result of climate change.

Tax Day Storm Stands Out

Apr 15, 2015
USU Webcam

The storm that bounded into Utah Tuesday stands out as an epic weather event for a number of reasons.

Wind gusts topped 60 miles an hour at dozens of Utah locations. Blowing dust pushed air-pollution measurements into the hazardous range. And temperatures plummeted 29 degrees between afternoon and evening.

Lynn Kitchen / NCRS

Utah’s warm, dry winter means a measly snowmelt, and water-watchers are already writing off this water year as one of the state’s driest ever even though it’s just halfway over.

Most years, the dogs splashing in Parley’s Creek would find the water here cold and swift with spring snowmelt. But the stream’s running at about one-third of normal for this time of year, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. Forecasters say there’s no more runoff to look forward to.

Judy Fahys/KUER

Leaders of an ATV ride into a closed canyon last year asked a court to dismiss the charges against them. But a federal judge ruled Wednesday that the trial will go forward.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and three others behind last May’s Recapture Canyon protest ride declined to comment after Wednesday’s court hearing.

James Marvin Phelps / Flickr Creative Commons

The West used to solve its water troubles with dams. But now Dan Beard, a man who used to lead the nation’s dam-building agency, wants to shutter it.

Beard once oversaw the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s vast water network in the West, and he helped Congress decide on one billion dollars worth of finishing touches for the Central Utah Project.

Judy Fahys/KUER

Conservation groups and Native American tribes worked with state and local agencies to preserve an extraordinary patch of open space along the Jordan River.

A ceremony on Friday highlights their efforts.

Stephen Butler / Flickr Creative Commons

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is scanning hundreds of recently passed bills in search of any that might deserve a veto. One that’s caught his eye would prohibit a wintertime wood-burning ban.

House Bill 396 concerns the governor because it potentially restricts the policy-setting Air Quality Board from implementing the best pollution solutions it finds.

Courtesy: / Utah Department of Transportation

Utah lawmakers took a big step on air quality last week by passing a bill that creates incentives for refineries to make cleaner gasoline in Utah.

Utahns for Responsible Burning / Facebook Screen Capture

Clean-air activists want Governor Gary Herbert to veto a bill that bars regulators from banning wood burning all winter in Utah’s polluted areas. KUER’s Judy Fahys has the story.

The idea of a wood-burning ban was aimed at averting high-pollution episodes in northern Utah basins. But the Division of Air Quality’s proposal caused a backlash and prompted lawmakers to pass a bill that outlaws a ban.

Utah Division of Natural Resources and FrogWatch

The season to spot frogs and toads has arrived, and Hogle Zoo is part of a nationwide, citizen-science effort to monitor them in Utah.

The zoo’s Suzanne Zgraggen, coordinator for FrogWatch USA in Utah, teaches volunteers how to identify frogs and toads.

Lawmakers Hike Gas Tax

Mar 13, 2015
futureatlas.com / Flickr Creative Commons

Motorists will see Utah’s gas tax increase, thanks to an 11th-hour compromise between the Utah House and Senate.

Lawmakers have borrowed from education and universities for years to cover road and bridge repairs. They agreed to end that practice by fixing the 24.5-cent gas tax.

University of Utah

Lawmakers are considering moving Utah closer to being a hands-free state when it comes to drivers using cell phones.

It’s already against the law to text while driving in Utah. A bill in the Senate would require motorists in motion to use Bluetooth or other voice-activated features. Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, calls it “hands-free lite.”

Air Bills Advance

Mar 11, 2015
Wikipedia IC Bus CE-Series

Senators advanced important air-quality bills Tuesday. One provides clean school buses. The other permits Utah-tailored regulations.

The word “different” changed everything for a bill that gives more flexibility to state air regulators. Sen Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, explained that current law blocked regulators from stepping up pollution monitoring at a medical waste incinerator in his district.

Courtesy: Brenda Norrell / Earthcycles

 The West lost an important anti-nuclear activist last week, when Margene Bullcreek was laid to rest on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation.

401(k)2012 / Flickr Creative Commons

Competing House and Senate Medicaid expansion plans are now on the table, and that means state lawmakers have just four days to settle their differences on this major issue before the session ends.

Judy Fahys/KUER

The controversy over wood-burning and air pollution flared up again Tuesday before a legislative committee.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, is sponsoring a bill to ease wood burning restrictions. It amounts to a rebuke of Gov. Gary Herbert’s proposal to ban wood-burning all winter in northern Utah’s pollution hotspots.

snowbirdphoto / Flickr Creative Commons

  Utah’s second annual Outdoor Recreation Summit gets underway in Salt Lake City Tuesday. The daylong meeting is aimed at bringing together communities that have been at odds in the past.