SALT LAKE CITY — About 800,000 acre-feet of water is serving the residential, commercial and institutional needs of Utah for 3 million people.

Heather Tuttle

The statewide average consumption in those categories per person, per day?

The number is 242 gallons per person per day, excluding agricultural operations, Rachel Shilton, with the Utah Division of Water Resources, told members of the Natural Resources, Agricultural and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

State water regulators are wrangling a bucket full of water challenges in the nation's second-most arid state. Scrutiny comes, too, from a pair of legislative audits that blasted the state's water accounting methods.

As Rep. Doug Sager, R-Tooele, said Tuesday: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."

The state had an independent review of its water data use from 2015 that came up with a number of recommendations, including the need to meter secondary water use.

As a result of that data review, the state developed a new interactive tool called the Utah Open Water Data Portal, which allows residents to drill down on water use by county and individual river basins.

The portal, launched this month, includes a county-by-county analysis of gallons per capita per day usage, with insight about what makes that particular area unique.

Shilton, who is the division's river basin planning section manner, said Rich County's numbers are off the charts — sitting at 1,240 gallons of water per person per day. The numbers are based on population figures that don't count part-time residents. And Rich County — along with other areas in the state — has a high number of vacation homes that skew water use.

The state is continuing its quest to become more water savvy and more exacting in requirements governing public water delivery systems as residents grow increasingly conscious over water use.

"I think we've seen a lot of great progress," said Jim Behunin, audit supervisor with the Office of the Legislative Auditor General.

Water regulators are working with specific providers to shore up leaking systems — with losses conservatively estimated in the 15 percent range of total consumption.

FILE - Lake Mary in Brighton on Thursday, July 28, 2016.
FILE - Lake Mary in Brighton on Thursday, July 28, 2016. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Behunin said Spanish Fork found its water loss in the 33 to 34 percent range and has worked since to bring those numbers down into the teens.

It's probable, he added, that more water could be saved by plugging those leaks than ever might be saved through conservation practices.

Last year, a lawmaker proposed a phased-in requirement of secondary water metering, but the hefty price tag of $240 million doomed it prospects, at least for now.

Lawmakers said secondary water metering is a must for the state moving forward.

"When you measure secondary water you save secondary water," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

The committee also dove into an extended discussion on drinking water capacity requirements on individual systems — which also came under scrutiny in a legislative audit.

Behunin said in many instances the capacity requirements were too high, leading providers to tie up extra water they didn't need through the acquisition of water rights.

Legislation subsequently provided greater flexibility to abandon the one-size-fits-all standard.

The state Division of Drinking Water has been working with providers to beef up reporting requirements with the state as well.

Correction:An earlier version incorrectly attributed a statement about drinking water capacity requirements to Marie Owens, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water. That statement was made by auditor Jim Behunin.