The southern Utah city of St. George was founded more than 130 years ago. In all that time, the annual precipitation has averaged around seven inches. That’s not much water for a 2004 population of almost 55,000. The Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers were and still are the lifeblood of the fast growing St. George and Washington County .
It makes sense, then, that St. George is very involved in promoting the responsible use of water. Whether it means working with the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Indian Tribe, local irrigation companies, the State of Utah , the Washington County Water Conservancy District or the City of St. George itself, water rights and water usage has always been of paramount importance. That history is part of the impetus for St. George as the host city for the annual Utah Water User’s Conference.
For the last several years, the City in cooperation with Utah State University, has invited dozens of vendors and hundreds of convention-goers for a two day series of workshops on everything from water rights, to conservation technology to funding and management issues. They’re issues that never lose their appeal.
"I think it gives the participants in the Workshop an insight of what is going on in different parts of the State regarding our water needs and concerns," says Nancy Hanks, an employee of USU and a member of the Workshop Planning Committee. "The presenters and vendors at the Workshop are there to discuss their areas of expertise and the participants then take this information back to the public. I think everyone comes away from the Workshop better informed."
The Bureau of Reclamation’s presence was evident, although less so than last year, when the agency hauled in a 60-foot commemorative trailer. This year, the display was a little more low-key. “We always want a good presentation,” says Bruce Barrett, Area Manager for the agency’s Provo Area Office. “Our purpose in attending the conference is education and networking,” he said. “We always get a lot out of the event, plus we get to talk about the good things the Reclamation is doing.”
And, that message was heard by a record number of participants this year. “We had 635 people registered,” says Carly Burton, Executive Director of the Utah Water Users. “We attribute that to the agenda, and how it might’ve generated more interest this year. We send out a first notice in January and we’ve also worked on our database with Utah State .” Since Burton took over as head of the organization a few years ago, membership has climbed as the conference has established itself as one of the premier annual water events in the state. “Our database alone is 2,400 people. Every year, our numbers go up. This conference is the most important function we do in making the public aware of what we do and what the water issues are.”
Washington County is the driest county in the second driest state in the nation. It will take such ongoing collaborations between federal, state, city and private industry to help keep St. George and other western desert cities flourishing.