Utahns Need to Pay for the Water That They Waste

Emma Johnson, Editor-in-Chief

If you’ve driven through Sugarhouse Park lately, you would have noticed that the pond is bone-dry. It was drained because of drought and the remaining mud and sludge look like something Michael Myers might crawl into as he waits for his victims in the upcoming “Halloween” movie.

If you ski or snowboard, you might be worried about the snowpack this season because much of the lake-effect snow we rely on will not fall. This is because the Great Salt Lake has largely disappeared due to drought. If you play sports or spend time outdoors, you will recall the sickly smoke and airborne dust that made it difficult to breathe for much of the summer. Several factors played into this, but most of them are due to drought.

Utah is dry, and in fact much drier than usual. This well-known fact is sadly too often forgotten. This summer was the hottest on record in Salt Lake City, with an average temperature of 80.9 degrees Fahrenheit, according to “The Salt Lake Tribune.” This may not seem like a lot, but the summer saw 21 days with temperature in the triple digits, and the earliest 100-degree day yet on June 4.

To pair with the sweltering heat, let’s review the dire water shortage across the state: according to Drought.gov, 100% of Utah falls under the “Severe” drought category, 88% qualifies for “Extreme” drought, and 20.8% is categorized as “Exceptional” drought, the highest distinction.

Utah should be in emergency water-saving mode, right? A recent article by “The Salt Lake Tribune” exposes the fact that Utahns actually have the highest per-capita water use in the nation, despite being the second most arid state.

Experts believe that this bizarre situation is due to Utah’s shockingly low water prices. Homeowners only need to pay $2 or less per 1,000 gallons of water. Just one state away in Phoenix, Arizona, a similarly dry climate to Southern Utah, the price of water shoots up to $12 per 1,000 gallons once a 10,000-gallon mark is reached. Even in rainy Washington state, rates for water are almost three times that of many Utah cities, according the The Tribune.

This cheapness incentivizes the opposite of water conservation, instead leading Utahns to think that if they can afford copious amounts of water, why not use it? We do not have the natural resources to keep up with the wasteful habits that this creates.

Another issue with this system is that however low the costs of water may appear, the money must come from somewhere. In this state, water metering costs are heavily subsidized by property taxes. This lets buildings that pay low or no property taxes, such as schools like Highland, off the hook. It takes a substantial amount of water to maintain Highland’s soccer fields and flow through pipes to keep the building functioning. For these reasons, schools, parks, and churches generally use high amounts of water compared to regular homes.

While funding water with property taxes works out mathematically, it is illogical to not assign the true cost to our precious water. If people had to pay rates proportional to the water they use, they would be incentivized to change some of their habits to conserve water. This is what has happened in other states, and what needs to happen here in Utah.

Though there are many actions individuals can take to reduce their water consumption, including watering their lawns less, introducing more water-wise landscaping, fixing leaks, and taking shorter showers, it is too high of an expectation to place on the everyday citizen to make those choices consciously.

On the other hand, if saving water is legally incentivized and economically prudent, it will become more ingrained in everyday life and more likely to happen. While individuals can influence saving water and the environment, conservation efforts are much more effective when it makes sense monetarily as well as morally. Utah’s water prices should be increased in proportion to actual water use as opposed to being subsidized by property taxes so that hopefully some of the effects of our drought may be mitigated.