How do you jazz up a worn out song? That’s a tough question for the Utah ’s water conservation community. Since 1999, Utah has suffered under one of the worst droughts in recent decades. That, combined with a growing population and increased delivery of limited water to endangered species, has made the call to conserve water progressively louder and more urgent.
At the same time however, those experts don’t want the public to become numb to those near constant urging to save and conserve.
The second annual conference of the Utah Water Conservation Forum was recently held in Springville. And attendees from throughout the state had but one goal; how to keep the public’s ear without turning it deaf.
“You’ll see huge responses when people are implementing water conservation efforts,” says Utah ’s Water Conservation Coordinator Molly Waters, “because they’re usually implemented in times of crisis when people can see marked results of less water.” Waters was one of two driving forces behind the Springville conference. She says only a small percentage of the effort to conserve turns into a long term habit or ethic, and that ethic is harder for people to retain when the crisis is over.
That’s probably why the two day gathering focused on issues like how to better use the media, how to teach water conservation, water pricing and dealing with disgruntled customers. The forum is clearly focused on its endgame and how to keep interest up when politicians and scientists are making hopeful predictions of the drought’s demise.
Most of the forum’s energy to spread that message comes from networking, says Kelly Kopp. She’s the Water Conservation Coordinator for Utah State University Extension and was one of the keynote speakers for the event. “We wanted to provide some opportunity to people in the state, particularly those working in municipalities and cities and public utilities, a resource for water conservation ideas and networking.” Kopp says many municipalities are beginning to hire people to manage water conservation and the conference is the venue to get those folks together.
The conference was also a venue for vendors who play an important role in the implementation of new technology. Jamie Tsandes is a Landscape Architect for PSOMAS, an engineering company that specializes in water delivery systems. Tsandes had her own take on the importance of the conference. “I want to be a part of what [the board does], but I also want to be a voice. Utah is pretty conservative in natural resource and water conservation methodology,” she says. “I’d like to see more consultants coming to conferences like this. I know it’s important for a lot of operators installing and maintaining these systems. I think it’s important that consultants who actually design them be here, and consult to these agencies not only here but on future projects.”
Another aspect of advocacy for the forum is its board. This year’s conference was timed to coincide with the forum’s membership meeting and annual elections, says Waters. “We’ve had a lot of crossover between the [coordinators and the board]. There are four new board members and three returning board members,” she says. Plus, the new blood helps provide a shot in the arm to the forum and its mission.
Finally, the conference was a vehicle for at least one researcher to evaluate water conservation efforts throughout the southwest. Rebecca Gallup, a Research Specialist for the Water Conservation Alliance in Southern Arizona , sat in the back of the room taking notes. She found the conference dovetailed with work she’s doing on the effectiveness of water conservation programs in general. “It’s a large scale evaluation study of water conservation programs. So, we’re looking at programs in place and trying to find the actual water savings from those programs as well as do a cost benefit analysis. We’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t,” she says, “and get that to water conservation coordinators so they can make sound decisions in the future.”
This second annual conference was much more comprehensive than last year’s, says Bureau of Reclamation’s Joe Whittaker. He and Waters organized this year’s event. And like her, he agrees that trying to get the varied interests to see eye-to-eye is, “challenging.” And everyone agrees that the challenge will grow as the crisis seems to shrink.
“That’s when we’ll all start earning our keep,” says Waters. “We’re kind of cheating right now. People know about [the drought] so it’s very easy for us, but we’re going to have to start delving into tougher issues like unfettered population growth. We expect it to get very political.”