Five Billion Gallons

Jennifer Pemberton

At the 20th Annual Utah Water Summit in Provo last month, Governor Herbert introduced his “gang of six” water experts, who spent the summer gathering ideas from the public at a series of Town Hall meetings about water.

One of those gang of six experts, Warren Peterson, spoke about the future of agriculture in Utah. He quoted Tom Bingham, who was the Farm Bureau Lobbyist for 25 years:

“He said, ‘I used to just go and count boots under the table, and I knew how the vote was going to come out,’ and now there aren’t any boots under the table.

Matt Jensen

Across Utah, utility crews are an in an uphill battle to maintain and modernize water delivery systems. From the desert community of St. George, to verdant Cache Valley, Utah’s water infrastructure is a complex network of old and new piping. Matt Jensen and Jennifer Pemberton report:

Utah Water Research Laboratory

We live in an ambitious desert society here in Utah. Food crops only grow here because we irrigate them with water we divert from rivers and reservoirs.

There's no chance that agriculture could flourish in Utah on rainfall alone. But one way to create more water in our system is to be more efficient with what we have; so researchers are working on making irrigation more predictable - think forecasting. Since the future of Utah's agricultural  industry might depend on the success of this research, we decided to learn more. Matt Jensen has the story.


Matt Jensen

The water cycle in communities across Utah is pretty straightforward. Water comes out of creeks and reservoirs, serves some purpose, and is put back into the chain further downstream. But as Matt Jensen explains, as the state’s population continues to rise, what we put back into the chain often comes with more than just water.

Jennifer Pemberton

The trees in Utah's forests suck up water like sponges, and leave a record in their growth rings of when there was a lot of water in the region and when there was very little. Researchers are learning to decode the tree ring record and reconstruct what Utah's watersheds have been through over the past millennium. Today on the program, we bring you the story of how Utah's water past can help us plan for Utah's water future.

Special thanks for help with this episode to Western Water Assessment, Wasatch Dendroclimatology Research Group (WADR), and the Utah Climate Center.

Today on Five Billion Gallons we introduce Utah's water cycle, from rain to lawn, and when it doesn't rain for awhile, which it often doesn't,  there are quite a few steps in between. It turns out that those five billion gallons we use every day in Utah are only accounting for residential water -- the water we use to wash our clothes and our dishes and our hair and also the water we use to water our lawns and backyard gardens. Our per capita use of water is nearly the highest in the nation, just behind Nevada and Idaho. So why are we personally using so much water? According to the state Division of Water Resources, there is a pretty simple answer: it's our legacy. Utah's founders decreed that the desert should be made to blossom as a rose, and it did. It still does. But at what cost?

Utah Public Radio is a winner of the Penn State Public Media “Think Outside the Pipes” local reporting initiative. Funds were awarded to six public radio stations to produce stories that confront public policy issues of managing water. UPR is the only station in the western United States to receive the grant.

UPR is using the grant to produce a program called “Five Billion Gallons” that will begin airing in September 2013. The program will be hosted by Matt Jensen and Jennifer Pemberton and will cover all aspects of water usage, issues, and infrastructure in the state.