Last year, Utah faced its worst drought on record. Irrigation seasons were cut short, drought headlines filled the news, Gov. Spencer Cox declared a state of emergency and Utahns made choices to water less where they could. Together we made it through 2021, but Utah’s water supply challenges are far from over. That’s why coming up with solutions for saving water is a focus this legislative session.
One easy legislative solution is SB73, sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, a measure that would ensure efficient toilets, faucets and shower heads get installed for all new construction. We’ve talked in great depth about how to achieve positive change without significant cost to Utahns, and it doesn’t get simpler than this. Setting efficiency standards for indoor fixtures is a simple solution that easily could reduce annual water use by 16,000 acre-feet (5.2 billion gallons) by 2030, statewide.
Modifying building codes to set more efficient maximum flow rates for indoor fixtures is not an untested solution. In fact, other states have either adopted similar standards statewide or allowed local municipalities to pass their own, more efficient, standards.
In Utah, several homebuilders have been installing these fixtures for years, with great results. The standards recommended in SB73 are 20% more efficient than industry requirements but offer a similar or better level of performance.
SB73 is not a change of course for Utah, but rather an acceleration of a positive shift that is already occurring. Toilets, showers and faucets account for 62% of Utah’s indoor water use. And, in general, people don’t replace these fixtures very often. That means that the installation of inefficient fixtures now locks Utah into unnecessary water waste for years to come (ex. toilets are replaced on average just once every 15 years).
By accelerating these changes, Utah could see a reduction in water use equivalent to the indoor and outdoor needs of 30,000 Utah households. Is it a complete solution? No. Does it help? Absolutely. And it makes a difference without requiring significant cost or sacrifice.
Explosive growth, shrinking water supplies and more frequent drought conditions are all part of Utah’s water forecast. As a state, the next few decades will require a lot of thought, planning, negotiation and tough decision-making. But knowing what lies ahead for Utah is exactly why creating solutions to save water should be our continued priority.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto is a Democrat who represents Holladay. Rep. Joel Ferry is a Republican who represents Brigham City. Bart Forsyth, Tage Flint, Gene Shawcroft and Zack Renstrom are general managers of the Jordan Valley, Weber Basin, Central Utah and Washington County water conservancy districts, respectively.