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The Nation’s Fastest Growing Town Needs More Water

Cheap water flows freely to the golf courses of St. George, Utah, but all the new residents mean it’s going to have to increase supply or reduce demand—or both.
May 31, 2018, 1pm PDT | Katharine Jose
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Jeremy Christensen

St. George, Utah was recently named the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country; it is also in one of the driest climates in the country, which means that providing enough water will be an enormous challenge, writes Jake Bullinger at CityLab.

As is the case with other growing desert burgs, St. George grapples with water-supply issues. But the challenge here is unique. Remarkably cheap rates mean that residents of an area with only eight inches of annual rainfall are using tremendous amounts of water. An average St. George resident uses more than twice as much water as the average citizen of Los Angeles.

As in many dry cities, one of the most significant uses of water is outdoor irrigation (St. George has traditionally been a retirement community, with lots of golf courses). In some places, watering all that grass would be an expensive proposition, but in most of Utah, untreated "secondary water" is nearly free.

The question for St. George now is whether to push forward with a major infrastructure project that would provide a new source of water, or to focus on reducing demand through conservation.

The project—a pipeline that would bring more water from Lake Powell—is hugely expensive, but even if it weren’t, there’s a question of how much more water can be wrung from the Colorado River, which is shrinking in the short term due to drought and in the long term due to climate change.

“In this blossoming desert city,: Bullinger writes, “leaders have a choice: Do they let the roses go brown, or pay exorbitantly to keep them?”

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Published on Friday, May 18, 2018 in CityLab
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