Much discussion about creating a Cache Water District (Proposition 11) has focused on long-running, familiar, and—in my opinion—distracting debates to build new reservoirs or create new government. Instead, we should ask: when will we start managing water in Cache County to meet challenges posed by population growth, urbanization, and uncertain climate? Also, how can we preserve the rural, agricultural, and environmental character of Cache Valley that most of us value?
Tackling these problems over the next 20, 30, and 50 years will require innovative thinking, more holistic planning, expertise, money, and flexibility to respond to uncertainties. New reservoirs will be extremely expensive, take a long time to bring online, and face opposition. The County has yet to study their environmental impacts.
More immediately, a Cache Water District can start much less expensive water conservation, aquifer storage and recovery, water banking, water marketing, and other water management strategies. As part of the Cache Water Master Plan, I advised the County and J-U-B Engineers to identify and compare these options. And as shown in the resulting plan, reducing per capita water use by 25% from the year 2000 level can delay the County’s need for water storage projects by 20 or more years to 2050 or later. We must also store surplus surface water underground in aquifers to reduce evaporation losses, improve groundwater levels, and more readily distribute water through existing wells. We must study environmental water needs and inventory important aquatic, floodplain, and wetland assets within the County. And we must establish water banks and markets so willing sellers and buyers (individuals, canal companies, municipalities, or the District) can more flexibly lease or transfer water to irrigate new fields, supply water during critical periods, and protect valued environmental assets.
These strategies offer important opportunities for us to start managing water more proactively and holistically to address our future water problems. Starting now gives us time to pursue diverse strategies, better study our water systems, innovate, and address problems before or as they arise.
Starting now also requires technical expertise, political commitment, financing, and a legal framework to move forward—critical resources the County Council has yet to muster in 20+ years following past votes to create a water district. A Cache Water District can offer these resources and further leverage them in innovative ways. For example, lobby the Utah legislature to recognize rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and other environmental areas as beneficial uses of water. Then use the County’s Bear River water allocation to protect and safeguard these beneficial environmental uses without building expensive new reservoirs and pipelines.
There are also risks in creating a district. District board members could pursue projects that profit a few at the expense of many. A district does not guarantee success. There is no single magic bullet to manage water. Success requires diverse strategies, innovative thinking, and each of us to start (or continue) to participate, learn, educate, vote, elect, and reelect board members who understand our water challenges and promising ways forward. The promising ways forward include water conservation, aquifer storage and recovery, water banking and marketing, and to identify our environmental water needs. Vote yes to start planning and managing our water more holistically for the future. Vote yes for a Cache Water District.
David Rosenberg (Logan, Utah)
David Rosenberg is an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Utah State University. His research focuses on integrated approaches to plan, design, and operate water systems. He has projects on water management, water conservation, drought management, and managing water to enhance ecosystems located in and outside Cache Valley. From 2012-2013, he advised Cache County and J-U-B Engineers in the development of the Cache Water Master Plan. The views expressed in this post reflect his individual views.