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Seaching For Ways to Satisfy Thirst of Growing State

Seaching For Ways to Satisfy Thirst of Growing State

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah is going to need millions upon millions of gallons of water to satisfy the thirst of a growing population, estimated to explode by more than 3 million residents in 45 years.

"Today, we have about 1.3 million acre feet of water to meet municipal and industrial needs," Division of Water Resources director Larry Anderson said Monday. "If the population grows as projected, we would need 2.2 million acre feet of water."

On paper that means the state needs to find more than 845,000 acre feet of water to be prepared for an estimated population of 5.4 million, Anderson told the State Water Development Commission.

State engineers and water resource experts are working with municipal and water conservancy experts on a plan to find that water, Anderson said.

The plan includes tapping additional groundwater, increasing the size of water treatment plants, conservation -- Utah residents have reduced their per capita use from 321 gallons per day to 267 gallons per day in the last 10 years -- and by converting water presently designed for agricultural use for municipal and industrial uses.

Most of that agricultural water conversion will come through the projected loss of about 10 percent of Utah's agricultural land to municipal uses, Anderson said.

Also on the drawing board are two water development projects: the Bear River project and the Lake Powell pipeline.

The Bear River project will bring water from the Utah-Idaho border to Willard Bay for storage and then use by communities in Weber, Davis and Salt Lake counties. It will likely also require the construction of a reservoir, although an exact location has not been determined, Anderson said.

The Lake Powell pipeline will pump water through a 66-inch pipeline from the lake, through northern Arizona, and then back into Utah near Hildale for storage in Sand Hollow Reservoir near St. George. There is a possibility of extending that project to Cedar City.

The areas make sense, Anderson explained to the committee of lawmakers and municipal water district and conservancy officials, because they both have large amounts of unused water and are relatively close to the population centers -- the Wasatch Front and Washington County -- that have the most pressing water needs.

Both come with huge price tags, Anderson said.

The Bear River project cost estimates range between $260 million and $500 million. Lake Powell could cost between $340 million and $450 million.

"So you see, this water gets to be very expensive," Anderson said.

Both projects will require the purchase of additional water rights, purchase of land for reservoirs, pipelines and other delivery systems, as well as inked agreements between various water districts and state agencies.

A governor's Water Delivery Task Force, originally appointed by former Gov. Olene Walker, has been studying ways to pay for the projects and will present it final report in late July, said task force member Richard Ellis said.

Among the financing methods considered are everything from straight legislative appropriations, to bonding, increases in local water access and user fees, as well as raising the cap on the portion of sales tax already designated for water uses, Ellis said.

Water projects are traditionally the responsibility of local municipalities and districts, Ellis noted. But the size and scope of the Bear River and Lake Powell proposals will require the participation of the state and its financial resources.

"The only way these projects will get done is if the state will step in and help finance them," Ellis said, adding that it's clear the local districts are committed to repaying the state for it's help.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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