New report warns Utah of long-term drought, air quality issues and outdoor recreation needs

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SALT LAKE CITY – A big new report from Utah State University warns of long-term drought, persistent air quality issues, and increased demand for outdoor recreational opportunities.

The report, presented Tuesday to Governor Spencer Cox, was compiled by more than 140 researchers and academics at Utah State University’s Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water & Air.

“If researchers can bring one thing to light? It is the interconnectedness of Utah’s common resources and how changes in land, water and air influence one another,” said USU President Noelle Cockett.

The report is detailed but also easy to understand (authors should explain some complex topics in less than 250 words). In addition to explaining the current situation in Utah, it is also meant to provide some political advice to help things improve in the future.

The effects of population growth, climate change and limited resources were highlighted. For example:

  • Urban development increases and leads to the loss of agricultural and natural landscapes
  • Utah has experienced a drought for the past 20 years and the long-term drought in the west is expected to be a huge part of our future
  • In addition to forest fires, Utah’s forests face additional threats from disease and insects
  • Water availability is forecast to continue to decline in Utah, including decreasing snow cover due to rising air temperatures
  • Ozone will continue to be a challenge in Utah (although the report notes PM 2.5 levels are falling).
  • Climate trends will affect air quality in Utah
  • More than 2.5 million people participate in outdoor recreational activities each year, with demand in Utah’s national parks and state parks is only expected to increase
  • The Great Salt Lake has sunk 10 feet and water development projects have diverted 39% of the lake’s inflow

The presentation of the report did not paint a rosy picture for some policy makers.

“That’s really not true, but it is the reality,” said Beaver County Commissioner Mark Whitney. “I mean, land, water and air – these are the decisive things that are vital for human life.”

But the report found some positive things including:

  • Some best management practices for outdoor recreational activities in the state with recommendations on how different parts of the state can respond to increased demand and visitor numbers
  • Air quality in Utah has improved, with some areas meeting federal standards thanks to declining PM 2.5 levels
  • Increased water conservation as a result of heightened awareness of the drought Utah is facing

“I’ve seen more effort and more potential this year than ever before,” said Dr. Kelly Kopp, professor of water conservation at Utah State University, on the drought. “So I’m really encouraged.”

Governor Cox said the report will help policy makers generate good ideas.

“All of this, the growth, the tourism, the drought, all of this increases the pressure to develop good public policies that are balanced and thoughtful,” he said.

Commissioner Whitney said he appreciated the report’s impartial approach.

“This is not about Democrats, this is not about Republicans,” he said. “This is about the quality of life in Utah.”

Read the USU report here:


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