Officials say Moab’s water concerns are 50 years out, not five
Last year, a peak year for tourism in Moab, locals used roughly three times as much water at their homes as tourists did in local hotels, according to data from valley’s main water providers: the City of Moab and Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency.
Accounting for slow population growth and the low impacts of lodgings on the area’s aquifers, the data indicate that Moab is not facing a water crisis, and it will not imminently face one, according to local officials.
“We have a water opportunity rather than a water crisis,” said Carly Castle, Moab’s assistant city manager. Her colleague Mila Dunbar-Irwin, the sustainability director for the city, agreed.
“the same thing,” said Dunbar-Irwin.
The data do not account for private well withdrawals because private well owners generally do not report their annual water usage. The totals also do not include water consumed by or used on behalf of restaurant-goers.
However, all indications suggest that locals — no matter how the pie is sliced — use far more water each year than tourists, and that is not set to change anytime soon.
Between slow population growth in Grand County and the low impacts of tourism on the local watershed, data and research indicate that the availability of water is less of a limiting factor to growth compared to the amount of water locals already use.
How locals use more water than tourists
It’s not that locals are thirstier than visitors. It’s that locals water lawns, and tourists don’t.
Single-family homes that dot the valley are surrounded by grass in many cases while hotels pack tourists into multi-floor buildings, typically with scant landscaping. Even if visitors take more or longer showers than locals — that data is not tracked in Moab — residential lawns ends up consuming far more water than showers anyway.
However, locals are not the largest water consumers in the valley. Crops are, accounting for roughly #,### acre-feet of water each year.
Compare that to the roughly #,### acre-feet that go toward local residences and the ### acre-feet that go to lodgings.
In part due to the prominence of inefficient watering methods — like flood irrigation and high-pressure water guns — used on local crops, the area could make some gains on cutting agricultural water use with minimal impacts on total production.
Not only do irrigators in the valley use more water than they could with methods like drip irrigation or surge flooding, but they also use high-quality groundwater on plants when using surface water instead could reduce demand on the local aquifer.
The same goes for residences; graywater and surface water could in theory go to plants while the humans drink and bathe in the groundwater.
However, the infrastructure for treating plants and humans differently does not exist in Moab. That means plants (which can safely receive grittier, harder water) and people (who are harmed by degraded water quality) end up consuming water of equivalent, high quality.
How Moab could conserve more water
Beyond using more efficient watering methods in lawns, reducing the size and prevalence of lawns would also make the local water system more robust against drought conditions, and the city has ideas on how to do so.
Where Moab could go get more water
And while the same tact could go for local agriculture, crops that stock local grocers and markets contribute to Moab’s ability to feed itself.