As the second driest state in the nation – facing a population boom – water is everything to Utah. With it, we have settled valleys, grown crops, raised families, recreated and supported a vibrant and growing economy. Without it, our economy and quality of life is at great risk. Many of us take for granted the water that so easily flows from our faucets at home and at work.

Over the next several months the Utah Legislature and Governor Herbert’s Water Advisory team will consider questions and solutions about Utah’s water future. The business community looks forward to engaging in this complex issue to find the best path forward for our state. The business interest in water is fundamental. Water touches every sector of our economy and impacts our regional and global competitiveness.  Additionally, water provides the recreational opportunities and natural beauty that attracts great companies and terrific employees. It keeps our communities vital and strong.

Water is also an essential part of many business processes.

Last month, business and civic leaders from across the state gathered at the Salt Lake Chamber’s: Utah | Water is Your Business forum to discuss raising awareness and better understanding the value of water.

The forum focused on educating the broader business community on the importance of water to their business and the economy, Utah’s current water outlook and ways businesses can lead by example on conservation.

Business leaders and stakeholders collaborated to build on the Chamber’s existing positions to discuss long-term strategies and policy options that the business community should look to support, including:

  1. Better Data and Strategy: Investing heavily in better data infrastructure for water and supporting the development of a comprehensive statewide water strategy before making investment decisions.
  2. Water Pricing: Promoting conservation and increasing the price of water through graduated rates.
  3. Innovation: Incentivizing innovation and technology for conservation, specifically for agricultural users.

The forum also included expert panels, breakout sessions on practical steps business can utilize to be “water wise” and a keynote presentation given by Will Sarni, an internationally regarded expert on water and business and a director with Deloitte Consulting LLP and leader of its Enterprise Water Strategy practice. Below are highlights from the forum:

21st Century Water – Risks and Opportunities:

Rising demand from population growth combined with instability of supply due to severe weather and water rights are forcing businesses to evaluate their availability of water. And, in many cases, investors are now asking businesses for a long-term water strategy that includes conservation and supply.
During his presentation Sarni discussed the physical risks of water scarcity to businesses, and that these physical risks – scarcity of water – will translate to regulatory and reputational risks. “We need to stop talking about it as a drought,” Said Sarni. “This is the new normal. And hope is not a strategy.”

The critical need for businesses to engage and lead on discussion around water will become evident, as public policy will align with the “new normal.” Mr. Sarni noted that scarcity  – or the possibility of reduced supply  – drives innovation “ecosystems” and technology. This will provide opportunities for the business community to engage in:

  • Collective action and greater community involvement
  • Investing in innovative water conservation technologies
  • Business needs to determine the real value of water, which low prices do not adequately reflect.

Utah’s Water Outlook:

Utah’s current water outlook is in a relatively good position because of disciplined planning and investment compared to other western states. The future of the state’s water future was discussed by an expert panel that included:

  • Natalie Gochnour, Salt Lake Chamber and University of Utah
  • Warren Peterson, Farmland Reserve
  • Alan Packard, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and;
  • Todd Brightwell, Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah).

The panel emphasized Utah’s needs to focus on improved investment and transparency in the state’s water data – specifically in use and pricing – and supporting Gov. Herbert’s efforts to develop a comprehensive statewide water strategy.

The group also highlighted the need to improve the market principals of pricing water through increased rates, empowering the agricultural community to promote conservation and wise use.

Lastly, the panel noted the importance of the business community’s engagement and forward thinking on promoting good public policy on Utah’s water future.

Utah’s Water Region:

A second panel educated business leaders on the impacts of regional and interstate compacts and issues on the state’s water supply. This panel included:

  • Jody Williams, Holland and Hart
  • Alan Matheson, Office of Governor Gary R. Herbert
  • Craig Mackey, Business of Water

Specifically mentioned was the need for states to collaborate as we look at the future of the Colorado River, Bear River and any other shared groundwater resources.

The panel also highlighted the Western Governors Association’s Drought Forum and discussed the progress of Gov. Herbert’s strategy team to develop a comprehensive statewide water strategy by the end of the year.

Business Leadership on Water:

The forum also included stories from over a dozen companies on how they were utilizing water wisely and promoting conservation. For example, Overstock.com’s new Utah headquarters, the Peace Coliseum, will save nearly 16 million gallons of water each year.  At current Salt Lake City water rates, this equates to over $31,000 in savings annually.

From these stories a few simple questions were devised for businesses to begin conserving. They are:

  1. Become water aware as a business.
  2. Know how much water your company is using.
  3. Set clear conservation goals and build them into corporate culture.
  4. Improve, make changes and keep conserving.
  5. Share your successes.

For more information about what businesses can and are doing to be water wise, explore the Chamber’s position on water policy or join the Chamber’s water task force visit us at www.slchamber.com