Utah expects to save water from 93 new optimization projects

Aug 9, 2023, 9:25 AM

A tractor drives over a field. Utah agriculture officials say they expect to save more than 60,000 ...

Ron Gibson, owner of Gibson’s Green Acres and president of the Utah Farm Bureau, drives a tractor while planting a field with corn in Ogden on May 4. Utah agriculture officials announced the recipients of 93 water optimization projects on Monday. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

TAYLORSVILLE — Utah agriculture officials say they expect to save more than 60,000 acre-feet of water annually from close to 100 water-saving projects that received state grants this year.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food officials announced their spring 2023 agriculture water optimization grant recipients on Monday, handing out more than $20 million in grant funds to 93 projects scattered across the state. The Utah Legislature set aside the spring 2023 round of funding during its 2022 legislative session, using money it received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

While the department didn’t disclose exact project details, they contend that the projects will save about 61,599 acre-feet of water annually when they are completed, which is close to the size of Rockport Reservoir at full capacity.

“We are excited to continue the charge to help Utah’s farmers and ranchers better optimize their water use on their farms,” said Hannah Freeze, the department’s agricultural water optimization program manager, in a statement. “The response from the agricultural producers to optimize and save water has continued to grow with each application period for this program, showing they are stepping up to be part of the solution.”

Most of Utah’s water consumption goes toward agricultural uses. They accounted for about 82% of Utah’s water consumption in 2015, though various reports estimate that they account for anywhere between 75% and 85%.

The agriculture water optimization grant program was created in 2019 to help Utah farmers and ranchers pay for projects that help them be more efficient with their crops and reduce the amount of water that they consume, as droughts have become more frequent in the state and across the West. It provides as much as $500,000 for a project and up to 50% of a project’s total cost.

Previously funded projects have helped the agriculture industry trim about 172,847 acre-feet of water use altogether, according to department officials.

Utah’s water supply received a boost from a record snowpack earlier this year. Its reservoir system is listed at nearly 82% capacity, down from its peak at 86% capacity in July, according to Utah Division of Water Resources data. That’s still well above the median August capacity of 64% and last year’s average of 50%.

But experts have warned that the boost doesn’t mean much for long-term security, which is why the water optimization program is expected to grow. The Legislature allocated another $200 million in program funding earlier this year, which became available after the spring 2023 round of funding.

Craig Buttars, the commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, told KSL.com last year that many in the agricultural community have embraced changes in how water is used.

“A lot of farmers are considering the crops that they’re growing and trying to find ways to grow more water-efficient crops to still meet the needs that they have for watering their livestock,” he said. “It’s been a gradual paradigm shift. … Over the past 10 to 20 years, we’ve seen a lot more interest in greater efficiency.”

Read more at KSL.com

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Utah expects to save water from 93 new optimization projects