Environment • Utah is putting at risk water supply, farms, urban population, study says.
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Utah lags perilously behind in preparing for the impacts of climate change on its water and other natural resources, according to a new report by the environmental group Utah Rivers Council.
Part update and part call to action, "Crossroads" says the state is putting at risk its vital water supply, its farms and ranches, and the well-being of its urban population.
"What you love about Utah might be at risk because of changing temperatures," Zach Frankel, executive director of the environmental group, said in presenting the report Thursday.
Frankel unveiled the report before more than 100 community leaders. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon was on hand along with Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, U.S. Senate candidate Bill Barron and Salt Lake City Democratic Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Brian King.
The report summarizes regional data that shows Utah's average temperatures are increasing at more than double the national rate, rising by as much as 8 degrees by the end of the century. The snowpack responsible for 80 percent of the state's water supply could shrink by half. Meanwhile, the added heat will drive an increase in extreme weather events, such as storms and flooding.
"The conservative course of action," said Frankel, "is to prepare for these extremes."
The report praises the Utah Department of Health for its recent report describing the impacts of climate change on Utah residents. But it also takes the Utah Division of Water Resources to task for failing to account for the impacts of global warming and changing precipitation patterns.
"While other states prepare for warmer temperatures, Utah insists on making risky choices out of hubris that threaten everyone's well-being," the report says.
"The time to debate is passed," the report says. "The time to prepare has begun."
The group proposes stronger conservation plans, both statewide and in communities such as those in Washington County. It also calls for farmland protections and changes in Utah's tax system so that property taxes no longer subsidize water use.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has questioned the scientific basis for climate change, and since he became governor in 2009, the state has withdrawn from active participation in the Western Climate Initiative. Recent decisions by the Division of Water Resources, such as its approval of a water-right change for what would be Utah's first nuclear power plant, have echoed that view.
Herbert's environmental adviser, Alan Matheson, said, "While the future is inherently uncertain, it's prudent to be prepared."
That's why the governor has supported water conservation and next year plans to convene a water conference to plan for future water needs, Matheson said.
Peter Cooke, the Democratic candidate for governor, called climate change an important issue for the nation's second driest state.
"It requires our constant vigilance," he said in a statement, "and instead of sitting on the sidelines, Utah should be actively participating in the Western Climate Initiative."