Utah economy

Aging infrastructure, drought bad recipe for water supply in the West

Communities across the West and across the country are harnessing more than 660 million reasons to bolster the integrity of water supply and distribution systems, especially in this time of relentless drought.

It is not enough to get Mother Nature to cooperate in an era of low snowfall, diminishing stream flow and shrinking reservoirs, but dams, aqueducts, water treatment plants and the canals must all be able to do their job to supply the available water, and many of them are getting so old that they are compromised.

“The funding is really helping us expand our capacity in different ways and they’re all helping us to directly address drought, for example,” said the Interior Ministry’s deputy secretary for water and science, Tanya Trujillo. , to the Deseret News in an exclusive. interview this week.

“We have funds to repair and modernize some of our aging infrastructure,” she said. “We also have funds for ecosystem restoration and making sure we take care of these issues.”

Alongside the six-month anniversary of President Joe Biden signing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Trujillo updated the Deseret News on the funding progress made so far with the department and efforts to the agency to help deal with the severe drought in the West.

Trujillo offered the funding information and her perspective two days before the Desert News Elevate discussion she convened on growth and water in the West and what those pressure points might be.

The Department of the Interior recently announced $420 million in funding for rural water projects across the country through federal legislation and $240 million for aging infrastructure.

This is in addition to the 660 million reasons to correlate resilience in engineering systems that are approaching end of life, or quite frankly, are well beyond that point, or to pursue new projects that need to be put in place.

‘Dam’ important hydraulic infrastructure

These systems in Utah, operating at peak efficiency, can help get more water into Nevada’s Lake Powell and Lake Mead, providing more assurance than water delivery obligations under the Colorado River. Compact to downstream states are complied with.

Weber Basin Water Conservancy District Assistant General Manager Jon Parry speaks Friday, May 20, 2022 about a project to replace the Arthur V. Watkins Dam siphon pipes with a direct outflow pipe to provide fresh water from Willard Bay at a canal in Box Elder County.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“We really need to think creatively and proactively about the response actions that we have available and we do that in collaboration and in partnership with the states in the Colorado River Basin and we coordinate closely with the tribes in the Colorado River Basin,” said said Trujillo. “We really try to encourage our partners to have the same spirit of creative and proactive thinking.”

She stressed that conservation, creative thinking and enhanced technology are integral to tackling water scarcity.

“We have to keep emphasizing that the water is not going to magically appear,” she said. “We have to be very careful how we use the existing resources we have.”

The money will also help wetlands and wildlife

The funding will also help other aquatic systems, including the Great Salt Lake, which hit a new all-time low last fall and is expected to drop even lower this year. Due to a combination of drought and diversions, the lake has shrunk to less than half its size and faces an incredibly perilous fate unless credible solutions are implemented.

This new Department of the Interior opportunity — more than $70 million for Utah’s aging infrastructure — includes financial assistance for the Arthur V. Watkins Earth Dam in northern Utah’s Willard Bay.

The $8.1 million awarded to the Weber Basin Water Conservation District will pay for siphon replacement to ensure more water reaches users who rely on the Willard Bay Freshwater Reservoir, such as industry, agriculture and the major wetlands along the Great Salt Lake which include the Harold Crane Waterfowl Management Area west of Ogden.

Jon Parry, the district’s assistant general manager, said replacing the siphon installed in the 1980s will help it meet its contracts to deliver inflows to key waterfowl areas that are an integral part of the annual contribution of 1 .32 billion from the Great Salt Lake to Utah. economy.

These other Utah projects are also being funded:

  • The Weber Basin Water Conservation District operates and maintains the Davis Aqueduct, part of Reclamation’s Weber Basin Project, which provides essential water supplies to towns and farms along the northern Wasatch Front . The $23 million Davis Aqueduct Parallel Pipeline installation will ensure the reliability and resilience of these water supplies in the event of natural disasters or other events.
  • The Uintah Water Conservation District operates the Vernal Unit of the Central Utah Project and will pipe the 12-mile Steinaker Service Canal to conserve water, reduce maintenance costs and protect against hazard channel failure. Federal funding is $14 million.
  • The Provo River Water Users Association operates the Deer Creek Dam in Wasatch County, which stores critical water supplies used by irrigators and municipalities in Utah and Salt Lake counties. The installation of a new water intake structure, aided by $25 million in federal funding, will ensure reliable water delivery through the Salt Lake Aqueduct.

It’s this little-known and seldom-seen water infrastructure that keeps water flowing to taps across the country — and one that’s especially critical for the rapidly drying West.

Trujillo noted that at the time of the conversation with the Desert News, the nation’s largest wildfire in his home state of New Mexico had charred hundreds of thousands of acres due to extremely hot conditions. and dry.

“I think this situation will continue in other western communities,” she said. “I really encourage Western state leaders and water system managers to educate the public and develop more efficient water systems because it is a vital resource that we must continue to protect. “

Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion