Utah’s business community is launching a new initiative this week focusing on water. Business leaders say protecting current water supplies and developing new ones is essential if the state is going to continue to operate smoothly and to grow.
A new report by the Salt Lake Chamber says Utah needs to add nearly as much water in the next forty-five years as it uses now. Capturing and storing this water will cost nearly $15 billion. And keeping current systems up to date will cost another $18 billion. Chamber president Lane Beattie says the cost of ignoring Utah’s water needs would be astronomical.
“The critical issue of being a great steward is not just looking at how you supply the needs of today,” says Beattie. “But being a great steward how do you supply the needs of the future. And that’s what we talk about when we talk about water: It literally is the lifeblood of society in every aspect that we have.”
The report says $5.4 trillion dollars in economic activity is already on the line. That’s for everything from river running to computer chips.
So the Chamber is kicking off a new initiative to bring businesses into the discussion. Its new water committee will take on the hurdles ahead, like funding all this work.
“We’re going to have to be creative about how we conserve, use and develop water,” says Jody Williams, a Salt Lake City attorney and member of the committee. “Bringing the business perspective to this challenge through the Chamber’s involvement is going to help us secure a prosperous future for all of Utah.”
The initiative is just the latest water task force in the nation’s second-driest state. What everyone seems to agree so far is that Utah needs to do better in managing this precious resource.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, calls the business community’s report “a spending wish list” that will increase public debt and homeowner costs.
“It’s a spending fantasy that would raise water rates, property taxes and impact fees,” he says.
Frankel’s group insists that aggressive conservation and market pricing of water would be enough to allow growth without big, new water projects.