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Front Page » August 12, 2004 » Local News » U.S. Agency Compiles Utah Water Use Data
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U.S. Agency Compiles Utah Water Use Data

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Every five years, the United States Geological Survey compiles and releases data on water usage in Utah along with locations across the nation.

The information details the amount of water used for agriculture, municipal and industrial uses, mining, private industrial wells and thermoelectric generation within the states.

The facts and figures compiled by the federal agency also provide a look at the surface and ground sources of water within the states.

Surface sources include lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Ground sources include wells and springs.

The release of the information tends to be slow and the USGS only recently published data from 2000, pointed out the Utah Foundation, an independent public policy organization

Along with previous reports from 1985, 1990 and 1995, the data provide a time series of water usage in Utah, explained the foundation.

According to the USGS, Utahns used 4.76 billion gallons of water per day. Irrigation remains Utah's largest water use category. The percentage consumed for irrigation purposes statewide increased slightly from 79.2 percent in 1995

In addition to the increase posted by irrigation, the consumption of municipal water per capita in Utah climbed from 1995 to 2000.

In 1995, 269 gallons were used per person per day in the state. In 2000, the consumption climbed to 293 gallons, representing one of the largest increases reported in the country.

Only four states, Colorado, Hawaii, Texas and Louisiana, posted larger increases in per person municipal water usage.

Drought conditions in Utah and the other four states undoubtedly contributed to the increases as did expanding urbanization, noted the foundation.

Utah ranks 20th in the nation in terms of growth, while Alabama experienced the greatest increase in per capita water consumption, continued the foundation. Pennsylvania witnessed the greatest decline.

In Utah, 78.6 percent of total water withdrawals are from surface sources. But for public drinking supplies, 57.1 percent of the statewide culinary supplies come from ground water sources.

Ground sources tend to be of a higher quality and requires less treatment to reach drinking water standards, noted the foundation.

Utah's 57.1 percent ranks the state 10th in the nation for the percentage of public drinking originating from ground sources.

Perhaps the most interesting comparisons are with Utah's neighboring states, pointed out the independent public policy organization

For example, Colorado is one of the lowest ground water users in the nation. Only 6 percent of Colorado's publicly supplied drinking water originates from ground sources.

Conversely, Idaho and New Mexico receive more than 88 percent of the states' drinking water from ground sources.

In the case of New Mexico, there is little potable surface water to utilize in public systems.

In Idaho, it appears to be a case of water rights. Most of the surface water in the state goes for irrigation.

Municipalities in Idaho need to search elsewhere for water resources, according to the data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey.

An ongoing concern regarding unlimited ground source usage is that the water is not as readily replenished as surface supplies and over-usage of the resource will dry up deep aquifers.

Some of the deeper aquifers at locations across Utah are the underlying source of surface waters.

Nationally, there seems to be an increase in the proportion of ground water used by the states, continued the foundation.

In the Intermountain West as well as in Utah, ground water usage has fluctuated during the designated time series with a peak in 1990.

The shift to a greater reliance on ground sources can, in part, be attributed to concerns regarding surface water quality, indicated the Utah Foundation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides analysis of surface water quality for all of the states.

The quality assessments go beyond whether surface sources can be used in drinking water to include considerations like fish and wildlife protection, recreational use, navigation and agriculture purposes.

Assessments are performed on all types of surface sources, including lakes, rivers, reservoirs, bays and estuaries, near shore and offshore oceanic water quality.

In the independent policy organization's summary, the foundation did not analyze bay, estuary and ocean data since the sources do not typically provide water for municipal systems.

According to the USGS data, Utah's water quality rates fairly well. The state ranked eight on river quality and seventh in lake/reservoir quality.

Most of the intermountain states ranked high at least on one indicator identified in the USGS water usage evaluation, explained the foundation.

Colorado ranked second in the nation for river and lake quality.

Montana was the overall lowest performing state, primarily as a result of surface water pollution from mining activities in the state.

The overall good ratings of the Intermountain West are due in large part again to geography and demographics.

Many of the nation's rivers have a genesis in the Rocky Mountains and the low population density of the areas means that waters exiting the intermountain states are relatively clean, concluded the Utah Foundation research brief.

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