Only 15% of secondary water connections in Utah are metered, which means that a small group of users can tell how much of the finite resource they are using and also find out how they compare to their neighbors.

That percentage is about to increase with an infusion of $250 million in funding that will be awarded to secondary water systems to cover costs of metering by up to 70% via a grant application process.

Grant applications will be accepted during this initial period through May 15 and are administered by the Utah Division of Water Resources.

“We can’t expect people to conserve if they don’t know how much they’re using,” said Candice Hasenyager, the division director.

“Installation of secondary meters can provide both the water provider and the water user with accurate water information so they can make informed water wise decisions.”

The current cost to install a retrofitted secondary meter is approximately $2,000, but it costs more if the meter has to go in the backyard.

Officials say the cost to install meters statewide is approximately $450 million to $675 million, but the $250 million will jump-start greater progress to expand the water saving measure.

“Installing secondary meters yields the biggest bang for the buck when you look at the amount of water saved compared to the cost of the meters,” said Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. “This commitment from the Legislature will fast-track Utah’s water conservation efforts and sends a strong signal that using this precious resource wisely is critical.”  

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Metering of secondary water, or untreated water used for outdoor irrigation through pressurized systems or a network of canals or ditches, can reduce usage by as much as 30%, according to the numbers from Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and Saratoga Springs.

The metering funding is just one of many measures passed by the Utah Legislature this last session to respond to the unprecedented mega drought gripping Utah and other states in the West.

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How metering works

Secondary meters in those service areas include real-time data in which users can access software to examine how much water they are putting on their landscape. The meters can also be used as a tool to assess if there is a leak in the system somewhere along the way because usage is inordinately high.

State officials say not only are water users typically using too much for outdoor needs, but they begin to water much earlier than necessary.

The Utah Division of Water Resources has a weekly lawn watering guide available for residents to use, with this week’s showing no irrigation should occur throughout the state, with the exception of Washington County.

Nick Schou, the Utah government affairs manager for Western Resource Advocates, praised the secondary metering initiative passed by lawmakers.

“I think it shows how important it is to take some meaningful action. It was a really good start this legislative session. In the 10 years I have been up there (at the Legislature) I think they did more this year than in the last 10 years combined.”

But Schou said there is much more the state of Utah could be doing, as well as individual water providers, that would mirror not only some unique innovators within Utah but areas elsewhere in the West.

He mentioned a Spanish Fork program implemented several years ago that offered discounted or free smart irrigation controllers to users if they were willing to give up some control over their access to water if overuse became apparent. It reduced peak demand by 17%.

“Spanish Fork and Saratoga Springs are on the cutting edge of what is going on in Utah.”

But he complained that state policymakers, water districts and cities have for too long been reluctant to implement more stringent water savings by ignoring the reality of a changing climate or by betting on ample winter snowpacks.

“We have had the luxury of having quite a bit of water here,” he said, but that has changed.

While the statewide program in Utah to pay people to rip out their curbside turf is good, cities like Las Vegas and others in the southwest have been doing that for years, and some have instituted tiered water rates to discourage too much use of water.

Beyond the grants in the new Utah secondary water metering program, there are also opportunities for low interest loans with a local cost share.

More information about the grants is available online.