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Utah governor touts money for farm water conservation

© Dmytro Shestakov
Merrilee Gasser | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Approximately $100 million will be distributed to farmers integrating new technologies that use less water, according to Utah Governor Spencer Cox.

It comes as the latest state drought report shows some reservoirs are at risk to dry up this year. Cox says those reservoirs are primarily used by farmers for irrigation purposes.

“We’ve known and they’ve known for a long time that those reservoirs are at the tipping point and likely to run dry and we’ll be working with them to mitigate those costs,” Cox told reporters during his monthly news conference Thursday.

Lawmakers appropriated the money during the latest legislative session, passing 12 bills dealing with water conservation, Cox said.

One of the mitigation measures includes tens of millions of dollars to incentivize farmers to use less water.

“We’ve got dozens of projects

 underway that have been proposed and will move forward so that’s going to make a huge difference across the state,” said Cox. “We’ll continue to work with our water districts. Right now, it really is that the short-term answers are all about conservation.”

Other water conservation efforts across the state include Washington County tearing up over 100,000 square feet of “non-functional grass,” which is expected to save the county about four million gallons of water annually.

Still, Cox believes the state could be doing more but is hindered for lack of funds. 

“Clearly, we know that we need more funding,” Cox said, adding the $40 million put aside this year for preserving the Great Salt Lake was “just the beginning point.”

“What we’ve done is we put into place vehicles to deliver water conservation. The rate at which we’re able to deliver on that conservation will depend on the funding that is received,” said the governor.

Cox referenced $5 million the legislature approved for a statewide program that pays people to remove their grass and replace it. The governor said Utah was the first state to implement such a program.

In the long term, Cox was asked his thoughts on a study approved this week by the Legislative Water Development Commission that will investigate the feasibility and cost of piping water from the Pacific Ocean to help fill the Great Salt Lake.

While the governor said he believes they should look at “all potential options,” he cited differences in salinity between the ocean and the Great Salt Lake and Utah’s position of 4,000 feet above sea level that would make a project of that kind lengthy and likely expensive.

“Our focus is on what we can do now and that is a real focus on conservation,” said Cox.