2° Out West Podcast

Growing Water Smart in Utah with Chelsea Benjamin, Nick Schou, and John Berggren

Delve into the intricate connection between land and water use, revealing the crucial role that reducing water use plays in our environment and key ecosystems, such as the Colorado River and the Great Salt Lake.

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Participants of Utah Growing Water Smart Fall 2023 session. Photo by Michael Sanchez, UT Division of Water Resources.

Are you ready to refresh your understanding of water use and make strides in conservation as we unveil the innovative Growing Water Smart program in Utah? This conversation delves into the intricate connection between land and water use, revealing the crucial role that reducing water use plays in our environment and key ecosystems like the Colorado River and Great Salt Lake. We’re joined by a WRA expert panel featuring Chelsea Benjamin, Nick Schou, and John Berggren, who share their invaluable insights on the impacts of climate change, drought, and high water use in Utah.

We discuss the threats facing the Great Salt Lake, outlining the economic and health implications of its potential disappearance. We also cover how population expansion and water use are intertwined, and the opportunity Utah has to learn from other states’ water efficiency efforts. We spotlight the Utah Growing Water Smart program, celebrating how it equips communities with resources to develop sustainable land and water planning processes.

Training at the Growing Water Smart event in June 2023. Photo by Aaron Fortin, Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air.
We can't make it snow more and we can't turn back time and stop the growth that we've had. We have one tool, which is to reduce demand.
Nick Schou, Utah Government Affairs Manager
Water Smart Teams working on their land and water use planning.
Water Smart Teams working on their land and water use planning. Photo by Aaron Fortin, Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air.

We wrap up by discussing the growth of water-smart teams in Utah and their role in developing resilient communities and ecosystems. Our conversation highlights how these teams are banding together to build sustainable action plans, offering you the chance to learn how you can get involved and make a difference, regardless of your location. We look forward to sharing these insights and discoveries with you, fostering understanding and action in the realm of water efficiency and conservation.

Listen to our newest episode to learn about Growing Water Smart in Utah and how Utahns are solving the water crisis in their state through collaboration and education. Please consider leaving a review after listening so more folks can find our podcast. Also, please check out the further reading list below to check out all of the articles, books, maps, and more that we mention throughout the episode.

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what i like about the west

We would love for you to contribute to the new “What I Like About the West” Segment. 

Create a 40-second voice memo telling us what you like about the West and email it to us at Jessi.Janusee@westernresources.org. We would love to feature you on our next podcast episode! Also, please take a minute to watch this 1950’s video of Tex Williams performing the song, “That’s What I Like About the West.” His song was the inspiration for this segment. 

That's What I Like About The West

Episode Guests:


John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager


Full Transcript


Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 00:00

On this podcast we spend a lot of time talking about water use in the West, which honestly makes a ton of sense because we live in one of the most arid places in the US and water use is crucial here. Today on the podcast we are talking about the Utah Growing Water Smart program and how they are developing better practices for land and water use.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 00:22

We can’t make it snow more and we can’t turn back time and stop the growth that we’ve had. We have one tool, which is to reduce demand.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 00:34

Welcome to 2 Degrees Out West, a podcast where we celebrate all the things we love about the Western United States and all of the amazing people who are doing good work to create climate solutions here in the West so that the West continues to be thriving, beautiful and amazing for generations to come. I’m your host, Jessi Janusee, the multimedia storyteller here at Western Resource Advocates, and today on the podcast, we’re going to be talking with Nick, Chelsea and John about the Utah Water Smart program. Welcome to the podcast, thanks so much for coming on to talk about Growing Water Smart Program in Utah, and I just wanted to get started by having each of you introduce yourselves, and maybe, Chelsea, do you want to go first.

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy FellowGuest01:21

Sure, Hey Jessi and everybody listening. My name is Chelsea Benjamin. I’m a Water Policy Fellow at Western Resource Advocates. I work on municipal conservation issues in Colorado and Utah and have been helping with the logistics side of planning these workshops for the talk.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 01:44

Thanks, Jessi. My name is Nick Schou. I’m the Utah Government Affairs Manager, based in Salt Lake City, and I help lead our initiatives with state government agencies, local governments, the state legislature and other places working with our Clean Energy program and with our Healthy Rivers team, and I’ve been working on water policy issues in Utah for more than a decade.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 02:07

I’m John Berggren, Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst with Western Resource Advocates and I also work on municipal conservation and helping create these in water and land use planning and I also do fair amount of Colorado River basin work and working with states around the West on Colorado River policy.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 02:25

I kind of wanted to give some context before we start going into the specific program. I wanted to talk about water use in Utah and the water supply in Utah and where most of Utah’s water comes from.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 02:37

In Utah really almost all of our water, 95% of it comes from snowpack up in the mountains and it’s really our most important reservoir, if you will, that holds the water up there as snow and releases it down in the spring and summer. Of that water, all the water that is then diverted out of streams and lakes about 75% to 80% is used by agriculture. The rest is sort of split down the middle between municipal and industrial water users. And when you think of municipal water use, that’s really the water that people see used every day homes, schools, churches, things like that. And what a lot of people don’t understand about municipal water use is that the vast majority of that is used outside the home something like 70% and that’s primarily used on turf, grass and lawns and thirsty landscapes.


So that kind of helps drive Utah’s high per-person water use. We have some of the highest per capita water use in the country. The other real important user of water is the environment and we have really amazing and internationally significant ecosystems like the Colorado River and the Great Salt Lake that depend on flows reaching them as well.


And when you think of something like the Great Salt Lake, people used to think that any water that reached the lake was wasted, but really it’s an amazing ecosystem that supports hundreds of species of birds, as many as 10 million individual birds migrating across the Western Hemisphere every year some would congregate there in larger numbers than anywhere else on earth.


The water use that we have is, you know, we focus a lot on the human water use but partly why we work on reducing water uses to ensure that that water is also available for the environment and the other needs that maybe traditional water managers weren’t thinking of so much.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 04:45

And a follow-up to that how have you seen the effects of aridification in the last three years in Utah? Do you feel like it’s been pretty intense there?

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 04:55

Yeah, so we’ve been in a drought for a decade statewide and then really, I think, warmer air temperatures that are a result of climate change have, you know, definitely stressed our water supplies as we’ve continued to use a lot of water. So, yeah, the Great Salt Lake is in major trouble, as is the Colorado River. Scientists at Utah State University released a paper several years ago showing that the lake would be as much as 11 to 13 feet higher today without all of the dams and diversions and human water use on its tributaries. So, yeah, climate change and drought and our really high water use is having major impacts on some of these keystone ecosystems in Utah, as well as many smaller watersheds that I haven’t even mentioned.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 05:47

And one more thing. Oh sorry, go ahead, John. Do you want to add something?

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 05:51

I was just going to add to that. So, the context for the Going Water Smart Program we’re going to talk about today is these impacts. The Great Salt Lake that needs more talking about and it’s really galvanized the state and communities around the state seeing how low the lake is getting.


Over the last couple years, it seemed like every summer we’ve had a new record low for the Great Salt Lake, and there was some other studies that just came out late last year that said, unless we do something about this issue with Great Salt Lake, it could dry up within a matter of years. I think they said five years is what we had to kind of fix the issue before the lake full on disappears, which, just to give folks context, it’s a major lake in the state and for the country and it’s right next to a major urban corridor, right along the Wasatch Front. We’ve heard about other terminal lakes or saline lakes around the world that have collapsed or have disappeared, but none have been this close to a major urban center, and so it’s really galvanized the state to take action to try and do something to save the Great Salt Lake.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 06:53

And that links it to an even bigger problem with air quality, because if the lake dissipates, then all of that salt has to go somewhere and that’s a big problem.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 07:04

And Jessi, it’s not just salt. There’s a hundred years of legacy pollution that has come from upstream, everything from mining to sewage to agriculture. So, there’s toxic metals and other concerning substances in the lake sediment, and then there’s also major air quality impacts and the health impacts which are quite horrifying when you really look into it, and we can do a whole podcast on that. But, the other thing is there’s major economic impacts. We’re growing like crazy.


The industries on the lake itself, the extractive industries doing minerals primarily, and brine ship contribute more than a billion dollars to state coffers every year and then you just think of the economic impacts beyond that, or the lake to dry up for the large population center, like John pointed out. It could be really one of the largest environmental disasters in the history of the United States were we to do nothing about it.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 08:08

And if that doesn’t convince folks, the Great Salt Lake also, through what’s known as lake effect snow actually helps contribute to the great snow and all the ski resorts around Salt Lake, and so you have the horrible public health, the potential disaster, you have the economic disaster and potential impacts to some of the best skiing on the planet. So, multitude of reasons to do something about the Great Salt Lake.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 08:33

Yes, and also I’m trying personally to get away from dystopian thinking and more into utopian thinking, to help my brain and the future. But we’re doing this program right, Growing Water Smart is helping and hopefully this will never happen with the Great Salt Lake, but it is something we have to be aware of and think about. I was also wondering about population expansion and just the amount of people in Utah. Do you see that as a contribution to that too? As far as water use, I’m assuming yes, but you know, got to ask.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 09:05

Yes, I mean for sure. We’re one of the fastest growing states, with some of the fastest growing municipal areas in the country.


You know it kind of shocks a lot of people here, but we’re actually one of the most urban populations of any state in the country, because most of that population is focused along the Wasatch Front in northern Utah. But again, when you look at water use, it’s more complex than that. Right? Like, we have 75% of the water in agriculture and we have industrial users and some of the growth is things like new data centers and things like that. They use a lot of water. So, there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle. Everybody’s got to contribute.


It’s not as simple as just waving our hand and taking the water from agriculture. That’s not a viable solution and I would say at this point we’re really so wasteful with water and have so far to go with doing better planning and monitoring and just encouraging more efficient water use that we’re not in a place of needing to limit growth. That may come one day, but that’s not something we’re working on. We have so much low hanging fruit still. Many of the policies we advocate for are pieces of this puzzle that will help us really solve our water issues in Utah.


But, to be very clear, we are even decades behind what some other states or communities in the West are doing in terms of water efficiency efforts.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 10:36

Which you know, in some ways is almost a good place to be, because it’s not like you have to limit things. Like you’re saying, we can just make these adjustments, make these positive changes and save a lot of water, which is great. We know how to do it and we can implement the programs. So, yeah, I mean that’s definitely positive.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 10:53

One cool thing about WRA’s perspective is that we work across the interior West, and so there are things that other states and other communities have tried that we can borrow and try in Utah. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel for something like this.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 11:11

Yeah, Chelsea, did you want to add something?

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 11:13

I would love to add, just piggybacking off of what John and Nick have both said, that there’s a growing upside in Utah and awareness around this and I think even beyond this program that we’ve been helping to bring to Utah, there’s a lot of great things happening at the state legislature. People are willingly participating in turf replacement programs and figuring out how they can do their part. So, it’s really encouraging to see Utah take from others and one of the big components has been how Utah has grown until this point and I think there’s a lot of change around where they’ll go as they continue to grow.


Historically, secondary water was not metered and that’s been a big point of waste on people’s lawns. They’ve just been able to use tons and tons of water. It hasn’t been measured because there’s no meters on that water and then people pay a flat rate or no money. It’s incorporated into their property taxes and that’s led to people really just not feeling like the bite of how much water they use in their water bills and seeing a lot of water waste. So that’s a low hanging fruit that the state is trying to address already and people are getting more and more aware of. So, it’s been really cool to see that.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 12:23

Cool, secondary water metering. We should go more into that later, but first I just wanted to get an overview of the Growing Water Smart program in Utah and how WRA has been involved with that program, and I think, John, you are up to answer this one.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 12:38

So, the Growing Water Smart program was originally developed in Colorado with the Sonoran Institute in partnership with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, and the whole idea for the program was, historically, as communities around the West have grown, the water side of things and the land use development side of things have been siloed. They haven’t been interacting, they haven’t been engaging. So, growth occurs, and developers say, hey, we need that amount of water for our development and water says, sure, here’s the water, and there’s no discussion, there’s no coordination. Basically, the growth happens and the water will be supplied. The Growing Water Smart program was developed by those our partners, the Sonoran Institute and Babbitt Center, to help address that issue, to break down those siloes, to help communities integrate their water and land use planning so that, as these fast growing communities around the West continue to grow, they don’t need additional water and, as we’ve seen in some communities, you can actually grow quite significantly and use less overall water. As Nick mentioned earlier, there’s quite a bit of slop in the system. We’re pretty inefficient with how we’ve grown for the last several decades. So, we can improve that and by bringing water efficiency into the land use planning process you can make that development or that redevelopment or that growth as water efficient as possible, and so the Growing Water Smart program is a workshop that brings together usually five or six different communities as community teams to the three day workshop. Each team consists of water providers, public utility representatives, land use planners, elected officials, mayors, council people, parks and rec, economic development, community development basically you know seven to 10 individuals from these communities that are really essential for water and land use planning. And over those three days the workshop provides facilitated trainings on how to better integrate their water and land use planning. So, communities come into it with some objectives and goals that they want to get out of this, and then the facilitators walk them through the course of those three days, various team work sessions that help them think through what specifically are their water goals and objectives, what specifically are their land use goals and objectives and how to integrate those two. And at the end of the workshop, so on day three they develop a detailed 12-month action plan for how they’re going to actually go back to the communities and implement all the things they discussed during the workshop. The goal of the Growing Water Smart workshop is not to be just a one-off training or people come, they learn a bunch and then they go back home and may or may not use what they actually learned. The whole goal is to help them come up with a very detailed plan of action for how they’re going to integrate water and land use planning, and so they leave the workshop with the action plan. We do some follow up, help them implement the action plan and they can actually make those changes in their communities.


We at WRA have been working for about four years to help bring in that program and develop that program in Utah.


So we worked with the Babbitt Center, one of the founding partners of the Growing Water Smart program, and we, over the course of the last four years, have garnered interest in the program, done a whole bunch of education and outreach.


We’ve presented to a lot of local communities throughout Utah, worked with state agencies, talked with legislators, got some small plots of money, did some initial trainings and webinars and in 2022, we secured a grant from the Utah Division of Water Resources to actually develop and implement the Growing Water Smart program. And so, Utah Growing Water Smart did officially kick off last November with our first workshop that brought together five communities from Northern Utah and help them come up with those action plans, and we just completed our second workshop, which I know I’ll talk about a little bit later and so that’s the program. The state has a goal or an objective of having all Utah communities participate in a Growing Water Smart workshop. Right now, based on the two workshops we’ve done, about 33% of the state’s population now lives in a community that’s gone through a Growing Water Smart workshop and our goal is to try and expand that statewide.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 16:55

Wow, that’s awesome. You’ve already done 33% and it’s only been two workshops. That’s super impressive.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 17:01

We had some really big cities in the first two workshops.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 17:04

Yeah, you front-loaded it. You’re like, let’s get some of this going, let’s get our stats up. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy. I’d never heard of them before and they seem really cool.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 17:18

So the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy is a center of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which the Lincoln Institute has been around, I think, over 75 years and the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy was developed about six years ago as a center focused on this whole topic of integrating water and land use planning. So, they’re based out of Arizona. They develop partnerships with different organizations and groups doing whatever they can to help communities and states better integrate water and land use planning. So, they’ll work with state agencies to develop add-ins documents. They’ll work with individual communities. They’ll work with the Growing Water Smart Workshop. Their whole goal is to provide those resources and provide information, provide research around this topic, to reduce barriers and to help communities integrate their water and land use planning.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 18:09

Nice. We’ll definitely put a link to their website in the show notes in case anybody wants to learn more about them and their Land and Water Use Planning initiative. That sounds super cool. I wanted to ask if you have any success stories that you want to share from your 33% of Utah communities?

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 18:27

So, it’s a little early to talk about success other than the participation. Land use planning and water planning processes are long processes. They take months, if not years, to develop and implement. When you’re talking about a new landscape regulation, when you’re talking about an update to a general plan or updating codes and ordinances, they take time. But what we have done with these first two workshops I think is successful is to help those communities think through as they go through all those planning processes, as they have to comply with new state legislation around this topic as they update landscape regulations. We’ve empowered them with the tools and resources they need to do that in an effective way.


We can highlight some of the action plans that we’ve seen. They’re still in implementation but I would say the success is really going to be seen in the next one, two, three years as all these changes really happen. And then the real success will be in the five-to-ten-year timeframe. When we look back and it’s like whoa the growth of the last five to ten years was so much more water efficient than the growth of the previous five to ten years. So when we’re talking about water and land use planning, it is that kind of larger scale, longer timeline but really impactful, and so we’ll continue to monitor these communities and see how their action plan and implementation goes.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 19:42

Yeah, we’ll just schedule a follow up interview for five years from now, so that’s fine. Chelsea, did you want to add something?

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 19:49

Yeah, I’ll jump in and give some examples from Colorado, while we don’t really have any specific examples from Utah yet. And we’re hoping to get more of those over the coming years. In Colorado, we’ve seen teams go on to do landscape ordinance updates and reduce their allowed amounts of turf in new development and a lot of other really interesting projects, so I’m sure we’ll see some similar examples in Utah come down the line.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 20:17

Yeah, and like you were saying, it is a 12-month action plan, right? So, it hasn’t even been 12 months since you did the first one in November, so we got some time.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 20:25

Just in terms of success in our Utah workshops. While not tangible outcomes, what we have seen communities already do is they’ve developed Growing Water Smart teams. So, coming out of the workshop they made sure they knew who was going to be in that team. Was it just the folks at the workshop or the other folks in their community that need your invite? And those teams we know at least some of them have been meeting regularly. So that coordination, that level of collaboration that wasn’t happening before is now happening in some of these communities and that’s one really exciting outcome that will be built upon for these action plan implementations.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 21:00

Yeah, I love that. Then everyone’s working together for the common goal right, and more things are able to be accomplished. I feel like we should do that with a lot of different things in the municipal level. You know just saying. There was just the Water Smart workshop in Logan, Utah. That was the beginning of June 2023, so just a moment ago. I just wanted to know how was that workshop? Who participated? It seems like it went great, and if you just want to give me an overview, that would be awesome, Chelsea.

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 21:30

We just completed a really successful workshop in Logan, Utah, the first week of June and we had seven city and county teams participate, which also might be why we bumped up that number to 33% of the state after that second workshop. We had pretty big populations represented in this second workshop. We had a team from Cache County, which is where Logan is situated, we had one from Box Elder County, we had Salt Lake City, Cottonwood Heights, Clearfield City, north Logan City and North Salt Lake City all participate and they all had teams of seven to 10 people made up of land use planners, water planners, officials or even some people from mayor staff. Like Nick was pointing out, we had it retreat style. We had most people stay together on site and we had dinners and got people together to keep the conversations flowing.


After the work sessions and along with our partners at Division of Water Resources and USU’s Center for Water Efficent Landscaping, we put on some plenary sessions to try and get people thinking about different ideas that they might take to their teamwork sessions and get people thinking in a water smart way, and we had some really, really great feedback from the participants this round. There was some great feelings of camaraderie and people were really excited about where they got with their action plans on day three and, sifting through the feedback after the event, everyone really loved those sessions working with their team. A lot of people said they’d never sat down and really spent so much time on this one topic and people felt like they worked through a lot of sticking points and got things moving in a good direction. So, I’m really excited to follow up the teams in the next month or so and see if they’ve started working on action plans.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 23:27

What are some things in the action plan? Reducing turf? What other water smart stuff is in there?

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 23:38

Yeah, it can be really varied depending on the community. Actually, some teams were focused on municipal conservation, like taking out turf and encouraging people to use less water on their landscapes. Some cities that were already built out, like Cottonwood Heights, they don’t have much new development to kind of limit the turf on. So, they were really thinking about ways to incentivize their current residents to think about more water wise landscaping or replace indoor appliances that use a lot of water currently. So that was the team that I helped with and they were really focused on that, and John and Nick were both actually facilitators as well and maybe they could jump in with some examples from their teams.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 24:26

One other thing I was just thinking about is that municipal governments, actually same with state governments, they’re very siloed, and so John pointed out that the land people and the water people weren’t previously talking, but these workshops are really cool because they bring in not just those people but many of the groups we’ve had have had city council members, you know, county leaders, as well as even people from mayor staff, and so that really gives the municipal staff the confidence that like, hey, the council is behind you, dig into this and do this.


And then I think it also, you know, makes implementation of some of these things much more likely to occur on a faster time frame because they don’t have to go and build support from a council or a mayor, and so it’s kind of meant to break down all sorts of silos and really, you know, streamlined action. I think the way that it’s set up even though, like John said, these things do take a while, you know they think they’ve really tried to think through how to move that forward quickly.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 25:35

I worked with Salt Lake City and they had a pretty ambitious action plan which included, like something I mentioned earlier, establishing and growing a Water Smart Team. So, they actually are developing this team that’s going to meet monthly for the next year to make sure that they continue this conversation. So, with that team development, they want to focus on getting a better understanding of their actual water use and baseline data, how much water has recent growth and development actually used? They want to get a good understanding of all the growth they’ve seen in recent years. What does it actually mean for water demands? They want to look at all of their various plans. So local governments have tons of plans. There’s high-level general plans, there’s different, more localized ordinances and codes and regulations, all sorts of plans and they want to figure out ways to integrate those plans across the city when it comes to water. So, as each plan is being implemented, they have a similar water efficiency component built into each of those plans.


So, their city is right there on the edge of the Great Salt Lake, and so one of the things they want to focus on was Great Salt Lake Stewardship and how can they do their part to help with the issues of the Great Salt Lake. And then they really want to focus on internal capacity building. How can they make sure that they have the staff and resources ready to go to implement all the things they want to do when it comes to water and land use planning?


I think that’s a good example that a lot of this work is not just kind of what you would think of with water conservation. It’s not just turf limits or turf replacements. It’s a whole range of things when it comes to land use planning and finding ways to integrate water efficiency throughout that land use planning process.

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 27:12

I’ll add to what both of them have said so far. Our teams all were pretty much focusing on how to reduce water used by residents, and then there were other teams that that was not their focus yet, but there was still a pretty AG focused community. There was one team that was focusing more on agricultural efficiency measures rather than reducing use in people’s homes. So that just shows you there’s a there’s a wide range of water and land use topics that come up in Utah. It’s not just one thing and every community is quite different.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 27:50

Building on what Chelsea just said that’s one of the goals of the Growing Water Smart Workshop is it’s not a workshop that tells communities what to do, it provides the framework and provides the facilitation to help them figure out what they want to do, how they’re going to do it and what resources they need to get that done. So, if it’s a pretty rural community, then the workshop helps them think through their challenges and objectives. If it’s a more developed community, if it’s a fast-growing community, if it’s a small, if it’s a large community, whatever the context is for each of the participating communities doesn’t matter, because the workshop just empowers them to figure out exactly what they want to do.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 28:31

That’s why it’s a program that can be applied statewide and throughout Utah, because it’s not a one size fits all. It’s a let us help you figure out what’s best for your community, how you want to do it and how you’re going to implement the things that you want to do.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 28:46

Yeah, the only other thing that I thought was really cool is that several of the communities really seem to seize on this idea of leading by example to their residents. So, you know, I worked with Clearfield and they really looked deeply at what they could do with their city facilities to reduce water use, but also in a way that would demonstrate what they’re doing to the community and why. So really I think connecting those dots, like not just doing it but working on the communication part and pulling like communication people in and kind of explaining what we’re doing, why it’s important, how it will help our community be more resilient in the face of climate change and future droughts, and you know, I think getting a group together to really see all that together and watch them dive into that was a really cool element.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 29:41

Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s so adaptable, it’s integrated, it’s supportive, it’s communal. It’s all the things that I personally enjoy about community work. So great job guys, it seems really cool. I was going to also ask just about this follow-up funding, because I thought that was pretty interesting. I know that you were saying that it’s like a 12 month, you know, action plan and you check in and you follow up with them and then is the funding kind of like they can get some funding on the backend if they’ve been implementing, or how does it work?

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 30:13

Yeah, yeah, one really cool thing about this program is that we offer communities that go through the workshops a chance apply for technical assistance, and we offer $10,000 grants and allow communities to come up with their own projects that integrate water in their use and come to us and see if it’s a good fit for them and we can help them put that project into action. So, it’s really great opportunity for these teams as they come out of the action planning sessions who immediately go, oh great, there’s this money that I can apply for and get this going, rather than being stuck sitting around maybe feeling like they don’t have those resources. We really want to help launch them into action. And all communities that have gone through this are eligible to apply for each round. So that’s one of the cool parts about it. We have communities that have participated in November and June, so if communities that have participated in November now have a really cool idea six months later, we can maybe help them implement that as well.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 31:14

Yeah, I’m excited for six years from now when we do the follow up interview and we get to see all the ways that this funding and these programs have helped people. It’s going to be really cool guys. I’m committing to that right now. Listeners, be prepared for six years from now.

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 31:29

Hopefully less than six years. But yeah, land use and water can take some time, yes, yes.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 31:35

So, when are more workshops going to be happening?

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 31:39

So, the goal of the Utah Water Smart Program is to offer roughly two workshops per year, going for the foreseeable future kind of in the Spring/Fall timeline. So, we’re hoping to do another one later this year, you know, this Fall, and another one next Spring. We are working with our state partners and other partners to find funding for these workshops, as you can probably imagine three days, retreat style, all facilitated, lots of teams, lots of people from each team. They can be a little expensive to put on. So, we are looking to secure additional funding. But, as I mentioned earlier, the state kind of has this goal of all Utah communities participating in a Growing Water Smart workshop.


So, we’re hoping that we can find funding that we can work with our partners at the state and Utah State University and the Babbitt Center to make sure that this workshop is available for any interested community. So, the first two have kind of been Northern Utah, Great Salt Lake Watershed focused, but we’re hoping to expand to different regions in the state. We can do different targeted geographically workshops southeast Utah, southwest Utah, central Utah and then we can also do statewide calls. So, anyone from the state who is interested is able to apply.


And so, we work with the state to open applications twice a year for these workshops. We usually work with them in their application process to make sure that it’s right fit for the team at that time. But that’s kind of how it works and that’s how we hope to see the program continue to evolve over the next couple of years.


So, if a community is listening to this and they’re interested, so yeah we’ll put a link in the show notes, but basically you can go through the Utah Division of Water Resources website. They have a whole web page dedicated to this and there’s a link to apply for the workshop and get more information. Also on our website, WRA’s website, we do have a whole web page with webinar recordings on the program and then information about how to apply. And then, yeah, if any communities are interested in applying and have questions, they can always reach out to us. We want to see as many communities as possible. So, if we can help you with your application or help you think through what you would like to get out of the workshop, we’re always happy to chat with communities and help them be better prepared for the workshop itself.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 33:52

What about Tribal Nations?

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 33:54

The program was developed in Colorado and has been going on in Colorado for about six years. Our partners have developed an Arizona Growing Water Smart. The first ever California Growing Water Smart just happened a few weeks ago and there’s also a bi-national border town Growing Water Smart that’s in the works communities along the US Mexico border, the whole goal of the program between the Babbitt Center and Sonoran Institute is to have all areas of Colorado River basin be involved in some way and that includes not just states.


You know communities in both countries and tribal communities as well. But it’s going to be a challenge to really expand that across the basin. But there are efforts to do that.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 34:34

Yeah, I was going to ask if this is a program that will be in every state, because it makes sense, right, like why wouldn’t we be doing this everywhere? So that’s cool. It’s nice to know that it’s expanding, California just had one and the border towns. That’s super interesting. Man, I would love to do a podcast about that. Go ahead, Nick. Did you want to add something?

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 34:55

Well, Jessi, yeah, I would just say to you that, specifically through the lens of Utah, because we’re growing so fast in Northern Utah like focusing on those growing communities so that we’re not just chasing our tail as we’re doing other things like turf replacement and metering secondary water and landscape ordinances and other things. You know and at least in Utah, a lot of the growth is there and not particularly in some of our tribal communities and tribal nations, and I do think WRA is working on and is interested in helping tribes solve some of their water issues and making sure that they have a seat at the table and some of these important negotiations that are going on. But often efficiency for the sake of growth aren’t problems they’re grappling with. It might even be just access to clean drinking water in the first place. So, I think it’s a great question that you asked.


But like John said, it’s complicated, and then it gets even more complicated based on where you are and which specific tribe that you’re talking to.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 36:04

Yeah, so many nuances there, for sure.

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 36:06

I would like to add something that I don’t think we’ve mentioned, in case anyone is listening who is interested. These workshops are completely free of charge to communities, which is one of our big goals. We just want everyone to participate, be able to participate, and not have money be a barrier to participation, so that’s another thing that we try to help out with.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 36:30

Does that include lodging?

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 36:32

Yes, it does not include like travel, but that’s the only thing we don’t cover. We keep people fed, housed and totally focused on task at hand, and I think that really helps them build their team and feel some camaraderie and just come away with a great experience.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 36:53

Any other follow-up stuff you guys want to mention?

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 36:56

We’ve mentioned Utah State, but I think it’s important that we say up front of who the project team was, who’s implementing this so while we worked with our partners at the Babbitt Center to help garner up interest in this topic and this program, over the last couple of years we officially partnered with both the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy and then folks at Utah State University to go after the state grant that actually has funded this program. So that’s the project team that manages Utah and WaterSmart. It’s a partnership between WRA, the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy and Utah State University. The team has a wealth of expertise when it comes to both land use planning, to water efficiency and then facilitation and working with communities on the ground. So, it’s a pretty well-rounded project team and we’re pretty happy with that partnership.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 37:46

Jessi, I can maybe try to put a little bit of a ribbon on this thing if that works.


But earlier in the podcast you’d mentioned trying not to be so dystopian and look at this dystopic future when you look at a possible catastrophe unfolding in front of your eyes like the Great Salt Lake drying up, that certainly is a possibility. The approach we take as advocates is that we just put that on the back burner and just keep driving on. And I think a lot of people want to come in with a silver bullet and just say take the water from Ag, it’s going to the lake or do whatever.


And to create lasting, resilient solutions, we really have to be creative and look at all the different pieces and really the thing that’s been hanging out there looking for a long time is our growth as we make progress on water efficiency. We’re still growing and it’s like one step forward, two steps back. So this may seem like a small piece of it, but I think, as we really look forward into the future, programs like this, bringing people together to grow in a water-smart way, are really going to make a much bigger difference than we probably even realize today A lot of people read the news about Colorado River and Lake Powell and Lake Mead and crashing reservoirs and the systems crashing.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 39:14

It’s a big issue for this water supply for millions of people in the Southwest. What are the solutions? For that we have to look to Agriculture. We have to look to the lower basin states in California and Arizona and all the Ag that’s going on down there and that’s where we’re going to get all our water savings. And what can we do up here in Utah, in Colorado, in Wyoming, in Mexico, doesn’t really matter, especially in our cities. Our cities don’t use that much water.


But the thing that I think is really important to highlight, and why I think this growing water-smart program is so needed, is everyone has to do their part. If we’re going to ask agriculture to use less water, significant less water, even though maybe our cities don’t use as much, or what we can do in our cities doesn’t save nearly as much water, if everyone’s doing their part, then we as an entire river basin can come up with the water needed to fix the water shortages. We need to fix the issue. And so that’s, you know, people say what does it matter what small communities are doing in Utah? It matters because we’re all in the river basin together. Even if those communities are saving small amounts of water, that demonstrates they’re part of the solution, so that the big water savings that need to come from large irrigation and conservancy districts in the lower basin, that can happen in a way that’s supported and people are doing their part, regardless of how much water they currently use.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 40:33

Yeah, absolutely. I was just going to add really fast. I think a lot of times we are just being reactive. We’re like, oh okay, we need more water, we’re using too much water, we need to take away turf, which is good, it’s something that’s helpful. But what I really like about this program is it’s proactive. Even though we’re addressing things that are already here, we’re also thinking about the future and how that growth and water use can change and we could do it better and we could all work together. So, I love that aspect of this program. I think it’s really cool, adding to the utopia.

Nick Schou – Utah Government Affairs Manager Guest 41:05

No, totally. We can’t make it snow more and we can’t turn back time and stop the growth that we’ve had. We have one tool, which is to reduce demand. That’s the same on the Colorado River, it’s the same in the Great Salt Lake Basin, and so, while many want to pray for snow which is probably something that helps as well, we can really just focus on demand and reducing demand, and that’s the tool we have.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 41:38

I was also going to add really fast, it’s awesome not just about saving water. Making these changes helps with the way that we use our land and water together. It makes more resilient communities, more resilient ecosystems, happier habitats, happier animals and plants and insects. So that part too right Just being like Ag useless water. No, this is all about making a better environment for humans and creatures and everything. So yeah, that was my little piece.

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 42:05

I just want to add what I love most about this program is that we’re helping communities envision their future. We’re not coming in and telling them how to do that. We’re coming in and asking them to get talking and get the right people in the room and empowering them to do that, and I really, really love that about this and I’m excited to help bring it to Utah.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 42:27

That’s awesome. You’re giving them a platform. You’re giving them resources, support, time. Yeah, it’s good. Nice work, everybody. What if you are from a state that doesn’t have a Growing Water Smart program? You know, like I’m in Nevada, where’s our program? How can I help people get motivated to create a program here?

Chelsea Benjamin – Water Policy Fellow Guest 42:47

I’m not sure of the overall scope of the program. Maybe John can talk to that more if there will be expansion into Nevada and other states. But one thing that people can start doing if they’re interested and they’re in a state where we just don’t have a workshop yet, we do create growing water smart guidebooks and there are specific ones for California, there’s one for Colorado, Arizona and now for Utah. You can Google those and get access to those right away on the internet. We have video resources as well. So, there are some different resources from the Sonoran Institute, the Babbitt Center and WRA and our project partners from the Utah Growing Water Smart Program that are available now to people if they’re interested.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 43:30

I’ll put those in the show notes. That’ll all be accessible. You can find them.

John Berggren, Ph.D. – Senior Regional Water Policy Analyst Guest 43:33

Yeah, there’s a wealth of information on this topic that you can find online. A lot of it does get pretty technical. It is for your land use planners, it is for your water providers, but it’s a great way for individuals to educate on this topic. The one specific way that you can get involved is so, when it comes to land use planning in communities, one of the big guidance documents is what’s called their general plan or comprehensive plan. Most communities here in the West develop these plans. Every five to 10 years they’ll update these plans. These plans provide a long-term vision for what they want their community to look like and what they want growth to look like. What are the values they care about.


It sounds like a pretty boring, bureaucratic thing, and why would individuals get involved? But comprehensive planning and general planning can sometimes have a public outreach and engagement component. That’s a great way. If you hear your local government is updating their general plan or updating their comp plan, find out when they’re having their public workshops and stakeholder engagement opportunities, and that’s where you can say, hey, I care about water, I care about water efficiency. Then they can figure out ways to incorporate that into the general plan, into the comprehensive plan, which trickles down to all sorts of regulations, ordinances, codes, all the other things that actually get updated on the ground. While it may seem like this is not something that the individual person can get involved in, there are ways to help influence your community when it comes to water and land use planning. I encourage folks to check out their local government’s comprehensive plan.

Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller Host 45:06

Yeah, I think a lot of average folks, myself included, really feel like, oh, is my voice going to matter? Right, but people want to hear from their constituents. They have to take your opinion into account. So, it is really powerful to go down to those planning meetings or city council meetings and express your concerns. So, I encourage everybody to do that from time to time. Go be powerful, Say what you feel.


Thank you so much to Nick, John and Chelsea for sharing so much information with us about the Utah Growing Water Smart program. I’m really excited to see where that takes everybody and how the cities in Utah change and grow based upon what they’ve learned at that program.


Okay, before we go into our “What I like about the West’ segment, my favorite little segment, first we are going to do some shout outs to our amazing sponsors. WRA’s Impact Sponsor, First Bank is the largest locally owned banking organization in Colorado, providing a full range of banking services. We are grateful for their commitment to banking for good, doing what’s right for customers, communities and employees. We’d also like to take a minute to thank our stellar 2023 sponsors, including our premier sponsors, Solup and Vision Ridge Partners. Our signature sponsors Denver Water, Scarpa North America, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and Torch Clean Energy, as well as our supporting sponsors Great Outdoors Colorado, Group 14 Engineering, Jones and Co Modern Mercantile and Meridian Public Affairs. Thanks so much, sponsors. We really appreciate you and we’re always open to new sponsors who love the podcast, love the advocacy work that we’re doing in the West, so if that’s something that sounds like a good fit for your organization or your business, reach out to us. My information is in the show notes and I can always point you in the right direction for our development person, Erika. Alright, you lovely humans.


So for this episode, What do I like about the West? I have such a special guest. I invited my daughter, Elliott. She’s home from school for the summer. Her and my son, Cassidy, are really tearing up the place, but it’s the perfect time to have her on the podcast finally. So she’s going to tell us what she likes about the West. Get ready, everybody.


Elliott Medina – Guest

Why I like the West is because it has cute animals and flowers, camping, climbing rocks and swimming.


Jessi Janusee – Multimedia Storyteller

Thanks, Elliott, I like the West for all those reasons too. Alright, everybody. That is a wrap for our Utah Growing Water Smart episode.


The next episode we’re going to do is just a legislative recap where we talk about all the different things we advocated for or against during the last legislative session. And I also wanted to say you know, if you ever want to be on the podcast, if you want to be on “What I like about the West”, you can send us a one minute clip and we would be happy to include you. And also, if you ever have a great episode idea or guest idea, we are so open to that. You can send me an email at jessi.janusee@westernresources.org, or you can also message us on social media. Anyway, that you want to reach out, we are really open, so please do so. Thanks, everybody. I hope you’re having an amazing summer, getting some outside time. I say this every time, but let’s all go outside and I will talk to you soon.


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