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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Derek Bruton

Effects of population growth, climate change, and increased water reuse on water supply and demand in Utah.


Future water shortages have been a major concern as the urban development along the Wasatch Front continues to swell the demand on Utah’s already limited water supplies. By taking a broad view and modelling the water sources, uses, losses, and final destinations in the Utah Lake and Jordan River Basins, it becomes apparent that current state policies, if goals are met and maintained, should be sufficient to cope with anticipated growth through 2060.
While this is good news for the immediate future, it relies on a potentially serious decline of agriculture which may impact the food security of the area. Additionally, the pressures which are causing this water stress will hardly cease to exist beyond 2060, so innovative ways to either reduce demand or increase available supply still need to be explored. Conservation efforts and demand focused goals, the primary focus of the state, will buy critical time, but if Utah continues to grow, finding new water sources may become necessary.

One option in particular has the potential to revolutionize the way water has been managed in the states (including Utah) along the Colorado River: trading energy for water. This energy for water exchange would allow landlocked states along the Colorado River to gain part of California’s share of the river’s water in return for enough electricity (and likely some financing for the necessary infrastructure) to desalinate an equivalent volume.
The model developed also has the potential to be refined into a powerful water policy impact and analysis tool and the steps which would be necessary for its further development are presented.