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Thank you to everyone who attended the 11th Annual Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium! This free two-day conference encourages a comprehensive review of the current state of our watershed while creating learning opportunities for a diverse array of stakeholders. Sessions covered a broad range of topics on water quality and watershed issues with local, regional, and national relevance. Hosted by Salt Lake County Watershed Planning & Restoration.

Powerpoints and audio recordings are available.  Click on a session and scroll down to the attached files.
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Wednesday, November 15 • 9:50am - 10:20am
The Great Water Decoupling, the Bear River and the Salt Lake Valley

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The Great Water Decoupling, the Bear River and the Salt Lake Valley

Although some believe the Wasatch Front is need more water for growth, booming cities outside Utah have seen water demand drop through a mix of good planning, clever storytelling and market economics. Come learn how this Great Decoupling has been achieved and what must happen for it to occur in Salt Lake County and the Wasatch Front.

Full Abstract:
For decades, water leaders across the American West have been warning the public about the coming water shortage due to population growth occurring in an arid land. Media stories have showered our culture in a cloud of doom about the coming water crisis owed to our love of urban growth and its impacts upon our environment. Conservationists have drawn a line in the sand trying to save the last of our aquatic landscapes, turning water planning dialogues into ethical lessons about climate change and species extinction. But a funny thing happened on the way to the debate: The Great Decoupling. In contrast to what the Population Bomb taught us, municipal water use has decreased in the face of rapid population growth. This Decoupling between population growth and municipal water demand can be seen again and again over the last 20 years outside Utah, where communities are reaping the rewards from decisions made by a new generation of water planners. Urban centers like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles decreased their total water demand, even while their population has greatly increased over several decades. Contrary to past dire warnings about running out of municipal water, a new generation of water leaders has managed to implement sustainable water policies originating out of a combination of economics, grassroots education and cutting edge marketing. Much is at stake for the Salt Lake Valley, as some water leaders claim that multi-billion Bear River Development is essential to the future of suburban residents, less our municipal population runs out of this precious liquid we all love. But critics worry about the project’s many impacts since the Bear River is the single largest source of surface water to the Great Salt Lake. Many fear proposed Bear River Development will lower the elevation of the Lake dramatically, impacting the hundreds of migratory bird species which rely upon the Lake’s shoreline wetlands in their travels across the Western Hemisphere. Health advocates worry about air quality impacts from the project by virtue of increasing lakebed airborne dust levels during windstorms. Will Utah experience the Great Decoupling and avoid these impacts? In this workshop, we explore how large urban centers managed to grow their populations while either decreasing or keeping their total water demand level. These communities reduced water use by changing their perspective on how they communicate water stories, how they value water and how they market water to their constituents. Participants will come away with bold new perspectives on water in Utah, why it matters how we value water, how we communicate water decisions and identify opportunities to apply this perspective to Utah water dialogues differently.


Zachary Frankel

Executive Director, Utah Rivers Council
Zach Frankel received his B.S. in Biology at the University of Utah and is the Executive Director of the Utah Rivers Council, which he founded in 1994. Zach has led many exciting campaigns to protect Utah’s rivers and is an expert on water policy in Utah. Zach lives with his family... Read More →

Dan McCool

Professor Emeritus, Political Science Department, University of Utah
Dan McCool is the former director of Environmental & Sustainability Studies at the University of Utah. Dan has written and been interviewed widely on environmental issues, particularly related to water in the west. He holds a Ph.D.in Political Science from the University of Arizo... Read More →

Wednesday November 15, 2017 9:50am - 10:20am MST
Lower Level: Ballroom C