Utah is the second driest state in the country based on state-wide average participation, and according to U.S. census data Utah is tied for second for the fastest growing population.  In times of climate change and extended drought, the combination of these characteristics is unsettling.  Water is a limited resource and with growth of 2.5 million projected for Utah by 2050, more water will be necessary to support the population.  The obvious question is where the state will get it.  In January, Gov. Spencer Cox released Utah’s Coordinated Action Plan for Water, which “prioritizes conservation, storage, agriculture preservation, and use optimization.”[1]  Use optimization to accommodate continued growth often employs water projects which can entail pumping water and piping it across a distance.  However, these projects often result in robbing Peter to pay Paul, and the Pine Valley Water Supply Project is raising concerns for both in-state residents and across the border in Nevada. 

The Pine Valley Water Supply Project is a proposed solution to the water shortage in Cedar City, located in Iron County.  The town’s continued growth is straining local aquifers that are already under duress from extended drought conditions.  The project proposes to run 70 miles of pipeline from aquifers near Nevada’s border to Iron County drawing a wide array of opponents, including environmentalists, county commissioners, ranchers, and tribes.  Most argue that the project will impact the entire Great Basin Region, endangering communities, wildlife, and sacred sites as well as the area groundwater flow that feeds into the Great Salt Lake.   

In a technical memorandum prepared by Roux, Inc. on behalf of the Great Basin Water Network which references flow modeling developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the 15,000 acre feet of water the project plans to pump annually is 35 percent greater than the recharge rate and could “jeopardize underground flow systems in Snake Valley and imperil tribal sacred sites and more than a dozen interconnected groundwater basins in Nevada.”[2]

The situation with Cedar City highlights the importance of planning, not just in Utah but in any state.  Water supplies, projected population growth and anticipated climate change must all be considered when contemplating expanded communities to determine whether water sources can support proposed development.  Conservation can positively impact water availability only to a point, becoming impossible to achieve when water is limited.  This scenario will likely play out in communities like Cedar Valley who will lose approximately 75 percent of their water rights over the next 50 years with the introduction of new limits on the amount of water that can be withdrawn from aquifers.[3]

On January 7, a draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the Pine Valley Water Supply Project was released by the Bureau of Land Management which is open for public comment through February 22, 2022.

[1] “Gov. Cox and State Agencies Release First Chapter of Utah’s Coordinated Action Plan for Water.” Governor Spencer J. Cox, 13 Jan. 2022, governor.utah.gov/2022/01/13/utahs-coordinated-action-plan-for-water/.

[2] Solis, Jeniffer. “Utah Groundwater Project Draws Ire from Nevada Officials and Tribal Leaders.” Nevada Current, 17 Jan. 2022, www.nevadacurrent.com/2022/01/13/utah-groundwater-project-draws-ire-from-nevada-officials-and-tribal-leaders/.

[3] Solis, Jeniffer. “Utah Groundwater Project Draws Ire from Nevada Officials and Tribal Leaders.” Nevada Current, 17 Jan. 2022, www.nevadacurrent.com/2022/01/13/utah-groundwater-project-draws-ire-from-nevada-officials-and-tribal-leaders/