News Feature | May 25, 2018

Water Crisis Hits Nation's Fastest-Growing Urban Area

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The nation’s fastest-growing urban area has a water supply problem.

St. George, UT, is “blossoming,” according to Wired. The “ceaseless sunshine” has made it a popular destination for retirees and students alike. With a current population of 165,000, it grew four percent larger between 2016 and 2017. And officials say six million people visit the area each year. It is expected that 500,000 will live there by 2065.

Yet as a desert area, water supply challenges run deep.

“The challenge here is unique. Remarkably cheap rates mean that residents of an area with only eight inches of annual rainfall are using tremendous amounts of water. An average St. George resident uses more than twice as much water as the average citizen of Los Angeles,” Wired reported.

In fact, water conservation is not one of Utah’s major strengths.

“Utah is one of the driest states in the country, but you couldn’t tell by how much water its residents are using. The average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons a day. In Utah, each individual consumes approximately 248 gallons of water a day,” Mother Jones reported.

In St. George, locals are already on the hunt for more water.

“Political leaders at the state and local level view this primarily as a supply issue. Their preferred solution is a gargantuan $1.4 billion pipeline that would connect the region with Lake Powell, a reservoir along the Colorado River. With the aid of pumping stations, the pipeline would shuttle water over 140 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain,” Wired reported.

“The goal is to store 86,000 acre-feet a year in nearby reservoirs and aquifers — more than enough, officials say, to meet the demand of the growing population and decrease reliance on the dwindling Virgin River, currently Washington County’s primary water source,” it continued.

Environmentalists have argued that conservation and sustainable practices are all that is needed to meet the area’s water supply needs, The Deseret News reported.

Ronald Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, provided a counterargument.

“We certainly are committed to conservation, but we don’t think that gets you there alone, especially with the organic growth and the tremendous in-migration that’s occurring in the Southwest,” he said, per Wired

The pipeline project was approved in 2006 by the state legislature, but it is currently on hold due to questions over which federal agency has jurisdiction over the project, Wired reported.