Let the Water Flow Freely


(Photo Courtesy of Zachary Frankel)

(Photo Courtesy of Zachary Frankel)
(Photo Courtesy of Zachary Frankel)

Keyboards clattered in the background. Zachary Frankel cleared the desk of newspapers and other assorted documents. In their small, busy office, the Utah Rivers Council is attempting to change the way Utah’s water ecosystems are handled, both by the government and the people. At the head of it all is Frankel, a concerned and exuberant conservationist.
The Utah Rivers Council headquarters are located in an unassuming second-floor office in Sugar House. The organization has a small staff taking on big issues in Utah, all dealing with conservation and aiming to protect and maintain Utah’s rivers and water sources.
Back when Frankel started working with the Council in 1995, the climate of conservation politics was completely different. Conservation groups were too few, and as a result, there were a lot of issues with no voice.
“It was pretty clear that there were all these issues that were going unaddressed in Utah and somebody needed to do it,” he says.
And so Frankel, a U alumnus, decided to take a stand. It wasn’t easy, but with the Council’s first success — stopping the construction of the Diamond Fork Dam — things started rolling.
“For a couple years, we were rather anemic,” he says. “It took us several years to be successful in that regard, and when we won, it was a milestone for us because it demonstrated that we can win here in Utah. And it legitimized us as an organization.”
The Council has since taken on more projects and, in the process, seen numerous successes. Just after stopping the Diamond Fork Dam, the Utah Rivers Council worked for three years to halt the creation of two proposed dams along the Bear River. They organized field trips, taking city and county elected officials and state legislators to the proposed dam sites. After speaking with locals opposed to the dam construction, the legislation was killed.
Currently, the Utah Rivers Council is working on Utah’s skewed relationship between water price and use. Utah has the lowest water rates in the entire country and, as a result, is the most wasteful. This is due largely to subsidies through property, sales, and income taxes that reduce upfront costs to users; prices appear lower, and people become less economical in water usages. The Utah Rivers Council is currently campaigning to educate Utah residents about this waste.
“That’s insane,” Frankel says. “We don’t do that with natural gas and electricity — why would we do that with water?”
Frankel says the effects of this disparity are expensive; billions of dollars are required to divert water away from natural systems, such as the Colorado River. Some plans call for water to be taken from the Great Salt Lake. The major drawback to that plan is that it will vastly reduce lands integral for waterfowl migration during the winter.
Through all of their work, Frankel says the mindset has been most important.
“There is a lot of skepticism in Utah among conservationists about whether or not we can win,” he says. “And you can’t start the day believing you’re not going to return. You won’t.”
Frankel hopes students and members of the community will join the cause.
“The easiest way to get involved is to contact your legislature, and ask, ‘Are you going to phase out these property taxes for water?’ That’s the single most important thing we can do to lower our water use,” he says. “Even though it can be intimidating, it can be really easy. Another way would be to write a letter to the governor opposing the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.”
For more information on the Utah Rivers Council campaigns, check out their website, utahrivers.org. The Council often holds events and conducts research, Frankel says, and there is a need for people to help.
“The most important thing is to believe that you can succeed,” he says. “You have to start the day believing you’re going to win one day, and if you don’t, why are you doing it?”
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