Utah is one of 46 states that carries out the Clean Water Act, which aims to ensure water is generally safe enough for drinking, swimming and fishing.
"These are our state partners," said Nancy Stoner, the nation's top water-quality administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and who was honored by the group Tuesday.
Much talk centered on the progress made restoring the nation's waters in the 40 years since Congress passed the landmark water law. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said more than half of the nation's waterways now meet the standards even though population has more than doubled and increased pressure on the waterways.
He said state leaders have been essential to this progress and will be going forward even with the challenges of dealing with shrinking budgets and new types of contaminants, such as hormones.
"I think we can do this," Perciasepe said. "It's going to take time."
Like Herbert, the federal regulator noted the economic value of protecting water. Perciasepe pointed out that environmental technology is a $312 billion a year business for the United States and one of the few industries in which the nation is a net exporter.
The Utah governor mentioned the economic importance of the Great Salt Lake, with its annual impact of $1.32 billion and the 7,700 jobs it adds to Utah's economy. He also underscored the need to balance growing demands for water with protecting water purity and the environment as a whole
"The State of Utah exemplifies balance in its policies," he told the group. "This extends to the balance of water use and environmental protection."
In a morning meeting, the officials talked about partnerships in Utah and elsewhere to reduce pollution primarily from farms and ranches.
Baker noted that the main "nutrient" pollutants, nitrogen and phosphorus, are not toxic contaminants. Still, they can make waterways unhealthy.
"It causes pollution that can choke streams and lakes," he said, noting human health impacts, as well as environmental ones.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Director Leonard Blackham said Utah will be rolling out a certification program in the next few months that is intended to help farmers comply with clean-water laws voluntarily.