September 25, 2000
With the population of southwestern Utah’s Washington County expected to surge to 340,000 people by 2050, the debate is on about how to meet the water needs of future residents.
Advocating a reliance on water conservation instead of a proposed water pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County is the Grand Canyon Trust, which commissioned a study by Hydrosphere Resource Consultants to explore solutions to what is seen as the inevitable growth of St. George and surrounding areas.
The recently released study, completed in July, concluded that Washington County can accommodate projected water use needs for the next 50 years using water conservation measures, and a proposed pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County is not needed, despite the projected population increase.
“The study shows clearly that we do not need the proposed pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County,” said Jim McMahon, the Grand Canyon Trust’s southwest Utah director. “What we do need to do is to start conserving water and get our use in line with everyone else in the West. In Washington County we use an average of 335 gallons of water per person per day. Tucson, for example, uses about 170 gallons per day. Most of our excessive use comes from watering landscaping, where studies have shown that we often apply twice as much water as is needed to maintain healthy lawns.”
The Hydrosphere study took exception with several findings of a 1998 study commissioned by the Washington County Water Conservancy District and completed by Boyle Engineering. The Boyle report projected that future population for Washington County would reach 525,000 residents in and around the area’s main city, St. George. The Hydrosphere study concluded that this growth projection was too high based on development plans of 12 municipalities in Washington County.
The current population of Washington County is about 85,000.
Hydrosphere concluded that more information on population growth scenarios and more accurate map-based data are needed to revise future water demands in Washington County and calculate water supply potential from conversion of agricultural lands to residential use.
Boyle’s estimates of regional water needs in 2050, according to Hydrosphere, are more than double more reasonable estimates. The Grand Canyon Trust believes enough water can be developed locally to supply future demand.
Due to its mild, dry climate, the St. George area has experienced an influx of retirees and others attracted to this southwestern Utah locale.
Washington County is home to Zion National Park.
According to McMahon, “The trust’s vision is that 100 years from now a person traveling from St. George to Page, Ariz. will encounter compact, thriving human communities nestled within an open, rural landscape.”
“Others have a vision of a suburban sprawl from Las Vegas to Lake Powell, all tied to abundantly available water,” he continued. “That sea of strip malls and subdivisions is not inevitable. It’s up to local citizens to decide what type of place they want this to be and to express that to various officials. Grand Canyon Trust is willing to help residents plan for this community’s future in any way we can.”
A copy of the Hydrosphere report – “Review of Water Supply Needs in Washington County, Utah” – and information about the Grand Canyon Trust’s work to protect and restore the Virgin River, can be obtained by contacting the trust’s office at (435) 673-8558.