OGDEN -- Water management is vital in Utah, the country's second-driest state and the one with the nation's highest birth rate, according to a 2010 National Vital Statistics report.
So, how is Utah doing with managing its crucial and relatively rare resource?
Four experts gathered this week at Weber State University for a panel discussion, Use and Abuse of Water in Utah. Each raised his own concerns.
"The most important thing for people to understand, in my opinion, is there is no water crisis," said Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, a nonprofit river stewardship and conservation group. "The problems we have are because we are America's most wasteful water users."
Frankel told listeners gathered in WSU's Wildcat Theater that only 25 percent of Utah's municipal water use takes place indoors. Seventy-five percent takes place outdoors, mostly for landscape. And because use of secondary water is not metered, there is no penalty for wasteful and excessive watering.
"We could reduce outdoor water use by 25 percent without losing a single blade of grass," Frankel said. "We don't need to be afraid of running out of water. We are the most wasteful per capita water users in the United States, and it's because of our cheap water rates."
Water rates are kept artificially low with funds from taxes, Frankel said.
"We collect sales tax, income tax and property taxes to lower the cost of water rather than embracing its free market value," he said. "We could be discouraging people from wasting water with water bills. We should start eliminating at least some subsidies for water.
"Most water over-application is for lawns. We can have lawns, but what is the benefit of over watering? There is none," Frankel said.
Panic about running out of water leads to massive government spending on unneeded solutions, Frankel said.
"The Bear River Development is a classic example. The proposed St. George pipeline is another. What water waste costs us is billions in unnecessary development and tax spending."
Scott Paxman, of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, applauded Gov. Gary Herbert's goal to reduce per capita water use by 25 percent by 2025. Paxman said the problem with metering use of secondary water has been that meters that get clogged with dirt and debris present in non-culinary water. Paxman said Utah State University has been working on perfecting a no-clog meter for secondary water, and that 1,200 such meters are currently part of a test program.
Paxman expects all retail clients to be metered for secondary water use by 2020.
"Without metering, there is no accountability," he said.
Paxman said current contracts don't allow billing homeowners for metered use of secondary water, but that may change in the future .
Matt Pacenza, policy director for HEAL Utah, a nonprofit group that opposes nuclear power, said the key issue that concerns him is the amount of water required to create power.
"We need to factor water into the decisions we make about where we are going to get our electricity," he said. "We have concerns with proposals that are water intensive, such as nuclear power, tar sands and oil shale. Those proposals are moving forward, and the parts of our government making those decisions don't seem to be terribly concerned about the water required."
Pacenza said nuclear power creation requires massive amounts of water, and a plant would generate much more electricity than needed. Wind power requires no water for production, Pacenza said. Current wind technology also generates far less power, but wind could still be part of the answer, as could solar power, he said.
"With the limited amount of water available and the increasing population, the water requirements of producing power in different ways should be at the heart of our decision making," he said.
Ben Nadolski was on the panel as an aquatic biologist for the State of Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources. Nadolski stressed that his comments reflected only his perspective as a representative of the local river restoration efforts.
And when it comes to local river restoration, the news is good, Nadolski said.
"Our community is making tremendous progress toward ongoing and future restoration," he said. "We've seen a noticeable change in the stewardship ethic in this community. We are now beginning to value our rivers more than we ever have.
"We believe that wildlife is valuable to everyone, and we believe life with rivers will beget life around the river. So whether you visit the river to fish, to watch some wildlife or just to find some peace, we feel there is an intrinsic and economic value to rivers. They provide quality of life to all our communities, and we appreciate the community support."