I spent 2 gloriously warm days in Dixie where I attended the Winter Bird Festival, a grand event by any measure! I also had the good fortune of discovering “Citizens for Dixie’s Future” (henceforth CDF) which has taken on the onerous task of brokering piece between a surging population and the regions limited natural resources. Water topped the list, especially the Lake Powell Pipeline proposal. So I did a bit of reading from CDF’s well stocked library.
It soon became apparent that this multi-billion dollar project needs closer inspection on cost vs benefits. The costs must include not only dollars, but some unintended consequences such as continued urban sprawl in a super sensitive Mojave Desert ecosystem with an abundance of plant and animal life that I became more aware of through an excellent WBF presentation by naturalist educator Marshall Topham on the biodiversity of Washington County.
Located at the confluence of 3 major biomes- Great Basin Desert, Mojave desert, and the Colorado Plateau intersected by numerous rivers and the towering Pine Valley Mountains, Washington County is a wildlife mecca with over 350 species of birds listed, an excellent indicator of its natural wealth.
So my naturalist instincts and a propensity towards frugality led me to look for pipeline alternatives.
I found conservation to be the most obvious and least expensive alternative. In 2009, Washington County was at or near the top in the West for per capita water use at 294 gallons per day. In dramatic contrast Tucson was 161 and golf course and fountain studded Vegas at 222. If the county was to set a goal for 1% reduction in water use per annum, it would negate the need for the pipeline according to CDF.
We notherners in Cache County are being threatened with a similar situation. Our Bear River which supplies 60% of the surface flow into the Great Salt Lake and is the primary source for the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is under scrutiny for multibillion dollar reservoir development to serve the Wasatch Front. In addition to the hefty price tag, this has very serious implications for loss of prime agriculture land and high value wildlife habitat.
The following conservation practices are taken from the CDF.
• Providing rebates for efficient indoor water fixtures and outdoor landscape conversion
• Adding native, drought tolerant landscaping in new developments (and converting old)
• Implementing an increasing rate structure to signal conservation to the customer
• Conservation programs must include numeric targets and performance measures
• Updating building codes with more aggressive plumbing and appliance standards
• Increasing education and awareness about reducing peak water use.
• Implementing smart growth principals and preventing sprawl
An additional conservation possibility being explored by some USU folks is restoring healthy populations of beaver to the Bear River Watershed. This has potential for water storage rivaling planned reservoirs not to mention the supurb wildlife habitat created as a bonus. A question for the Dixie folks- how are the beaver populations in the Beaver Dam and Pine Valley mountains fairing?
This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.
Image: Courtesy St George Bird Festival, St. George City and Citizens for Dixie’s Future
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Citizens for Dixie’s Future, http://citizensfordixie.org/
Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project: A Natural Work of Heart, Open Spaces-A Talk on the Wild Side, US FWS, http://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2016/3/25/Big-Bend-Habitat-Restoration-Project-A-Natural-Work-of-Heart [Accessed March 31, 2016]