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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Practical Water Conservation Will Save Utah

By Cris Brockway

While walking across campus today, I was struck quite suddenly by a sure sign of spring and things to come.

Hit right in the face by a well-timed sprinkler.

It’s easy to forget those silent snipers, what with their having lain dormant all winter long. But now it’s time to dodge them again. Most of us are either sufficiently quick or lucky enough to avoid a surprise shower with their cold spray, but none of us are sufficiently equipped to dodge this reality?northern Utah is coming out of another below-average season of precipitation, and our reservoirs are shrinking again. When will this drought end?

Props to the city of Sandy this week for not wishing drought away, but for doing something to save their water supplies. They have recently passed two key laws to help conserve water. The first prohibits watering of lawns and landscapes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. This is the time when most water is lost instantly to evaporation anyway.

Disobedience is punishable by (gasp!) up to a $750 fine. The second, called the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, dictates that new and remodeled non-residential landscapes must meet certain set standards of water efficiency.

Both of these efforts epitomize the thinking behind the 1998 state legislation to save water in Utah. The legislation then dictated that Utah needed to develop in coming years a water resource plan that dealt with conservation, not just supply. It was a great undertaking, and with much effort it has come together, only to be attacked from all sides for its lack of substance.

Critics point out that it contains solid policies that have, because of shortcomings of wording, no means of being enforced. Not an uncommon problem in the Utah State Legislature. Another criticism is that agricultural water use is ignored. Truly, in an area where farming accounts for 80 percent of water consumption, this must be addressed. Representatives of the Rivers and Streams Commission charge that the entirety of the conservation issues have been danced around, leaving supply-heavy solutions as usual. Sounds much like our energy policy.

In direct defiance to these charges, the Sandy policy-makers have surely shined. They have grabbed the conservation bull by the horns and seem committed to wrestling it till the end, or at least until we get more rain. The issue of enforcement has seemingly been resolved with their ambitious fines, although it remains to be seen whether the police actually write the tickets. The fact that they have set up a hotline with which to snitch on your illegally irrigating neighbor certainly adds a nice twist. All in all, they have set a precedent, one that says “We are committed to conservation efforts and will back up our words with actions,” truly a refreshing affirmation. Almost as refreshing as being soaked by a sprinkler.

Surprisingly, despite persistent drought and the weight of our situation, naysayers still contend that water conservation does not need to be spawned by threats of fines. We can only ask, what then? Is there another solution?

Most engineers learn a simple concept during their first weeks of classes, one known as conservation of mass. It affirms that, if you are taking out (by use) more than you put in (via precipitation) you will eventually run dry. Building more dams to “put more in” is a multimillion dollar endeavor, made more expensive considering that new dam projects will most likely be attacked on environmental grounds. And those new supplies will eventually be outstripped anyway, as Utah is tops in the country for new water demands. Conserving practically, on the other hand, requires less money, undermines the immediate need for dams, and can be accomplished if we can escape one very simple trap: denial.

No, not a river in Egypt. Or in Utah for that matter, although if it ran through Utah, it would probably be dammed up.

There is a simple denial that is so ambient that it is easy to ignore: We live in a desert. Utah is, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the second driest state in the country. Yet oddly enough, according to the same source, we have the second highest per capita use of water in the United States.

This notorious distinction is the price we pay for the oasis effect? that effect that permits the denial, makes us forget that we live in a desert. We look around, and seeing green grass and lush trees, say “why save?” It is this thinking that will drive us to dam every last river and begin piping water in from Canada before we seriously begin to conserve.

My first encounter with Salt Lake is testament to this. Having driven from New York, I can still remember the shock of looking out over the vast tracts of lush, green lawns and thinking “I thought I was moving to the desert.” Why, the grass here was greener than anyplace in the country! It’s a vastly different experience than my sojourns in Arizona, where people seemed to take pride in their arid environment, choosing ingeniously crafted landscaping and adorning certain areas with cactuses and dry-weather plants. Truly “working with” the environment rather than changing it.

While not saying “let’s be more like so-and-so,” such places show that working with the environment, although it is a challenge, can truly be rewarding with creative landscaping and practical irrigation practices. Plans like that in Sandy will help, but let’s try to change from the bottom up.

We need not just a slew of laws to conserve water. Students at the U can advocate for less green ?turn off the sprinklers and start thinking about water and cost effective landscapes. As we begin to take pride in our surroundings and work with them, the water conservation becomes simpler than we ever imagined.

Cris welcomes feedback at: ,a href=mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].

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