Knowledge is Power - Improving Understanding of Utah’s Water Supply and Demand

Advancing efforts to increase secondary water metering in 2019.

In 2017, the Utah Governor’s Water Strategy Advisory Team consulted a diverse group of stakeholders in developing a Recommended State Water Strategy. The strategy produced a range of recommendations for addressing the water needs of people, agriculture, industry, and the environment in the face of limited water resources, increasing population, and a changing climate. Improving our understanding of available water supply and usage is critical for managing demand and meeting long-term needs. This includes improving measurement and data that track municipal and industrial water use, particularly secondary water measurement. Such tracking is known to reduce water usage.

Secondary water is untreated raw water typically sourced from streams or reservoirs and used for lawns, gardens, parks, and other outdoor landscaping. Traditionally, secondary water was not measured when delivered to residences or businesses, in part because of the nature of old delivery systems and in part because water meters could not withstand the poor water quality.

John Bellmon, president of the Utah Audubon Council (the coordinating council for the four local Audubon chapters in Utah), lives in Ogden and long has relied on this water source.

“We use secondary water for our outdoor watering, but we don’t have a way to measure it,” said Bellmon. “I just try to follow the general water instructions for how often one should water. It would be very helpful to have a way to measure how much water we use and receive more information on what we should be using. Changing the dynamics around secondary water use to avoid waste and the need for large water development projects that could take water away from riparian areas and Great Salt Lake is an important step to protecting habitats that the birds need.”

Fortunately, metering technology for secondary watering has improved, though switching over many thousands of existing connections takes time and financial resources. Weber Basin Water Conservancy District has been piloting the installation of secondary water meters that transmit information wirelessly.

“Secondary water meters play a vital role in helping the District implement and gage the effectiveness of its water conservation programs. Secondary meters also facilitate the implementation of numerous other conservation programs that utilize data and opportunities provided by the metering of water deliveries,” explained Jon Parry, assistant general manager, strategic initiatives, for Weber Basin Water Conservancy District.

Better information improves conservation efforts when it comes to water use.

Research conducted by Joanna Endter-Wada, professor and program director of the Environment and Society Department at Utah State University, on the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District metering pilot found that providing information about water use was an important driver – even without additional fees - in changing behaviors and producing water savings. The district coupled the metering program with monthly reports that explain how much water a residence is using compared to the estimated amount of water needed based on the irrigated acreage and daily weather conditions. (Check out an example of a resident’s secondary water use report.)

A 2018 report on the State of Utah’s water use data collection program noted a reduction in secondary water use of 33.7 percent once a meter was installed. But because so few secondary systems are metered, Utah’s secondary water use was underestimated by approximately 25-34 percent. Estimates of secondary supplies also were underestimated by 64 percent.

Improving our understanding of available water supply and water demand is critical to managing water demand and meeting our future needs for people and birds. That is why efforts in the upcoming legislative session to advance installation of secondary water meter systems and provide for low-interest loan financing to help secondary water suppliers pay for the costs of such systems are so important.

For ideas to improve water usage or for more information on rebates, including  incentives for smart meters, check out Slow the Flow or look to the Utah State University Extension service for monthly webinars and other landscaping resources.