The first years of Mormon settlement saw the development of what may be called a pioneer pattern of water administration. Mormon pioneers arrived with few economic resources other than their own potential for hard work and their resolve to establish an independent commonwealth. In this circumstance, successful colonization depended directly upon a collective effort to develop and administer water resources for the common good. Water management was introduced in July of 1847 as an essential element of pioneering. During the next five years, water resource use remained under the close direct administration of the church.
The most immediate concern of Utah's first pioneers, when they arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847, was to begin the process of farming. Food had to be provided if they were to survive. Drought and isolation were facts of the environment; integrity of the group and self-sufficiency (because of the desire for an independent commonwealth) were desired goals. With these factors in mind, pioneer leaders stressed agriculture as the first industry. As the process of Mormon expansion progressed, agricultural possibilities dictated the characteristics and location of Mormon colonies.
At the beginning of settlement, the availability of water resources dictated where the Mormons stopped and what they did, forcing them to change their methods of farming and alter many social practices. Cooperation, central church coordination, small diversified farms, and collective irrigation became integral components of the pioneer mode of agricultural (water) development. The environment was an obstacle that the settlers had to overcome. It also imposed upon them developmental limits they had to acknowledge in order to survive. Although water that could be used for irrigation purposes seemed relatively abundant at the time, the pioneers realized that successful settlement would occur only where water resources were available.
The early church leaders believed that by promoting cooperative institutions, the beneficial use of water and other resources would be generally promoted and joint or community projects would be encouraged.
Utah's most precious resource is, and always has been, water. Capturing and using this vital resource wisely is the single greatest challenge facing the state. When Utah was in its infancy, the waters of the mighty Colorado River were of little concern to the population of the period. The small streams that bubbled from the surrounding mountains supplied their needs. But that was short-lived. Had it not been for a few visionary men who foresaw what the needs would be today. Utah woulD be without sufficient water. Somehow they knew they were destined to provide for one of the fastest growing states in the nation.
Much of the state still looks like a forbidding desert. There haven't been many changes in nearly a century and a half. While Utah is famous for a number of things, including its snow and heralded skiing areas, it actually is one of the driest states in the nation. The average annual precipitation is right around 15 inches. It's no wonder a rainstorm is revered as far more than just a storm; in Utah, it's an event.
Water is the critical factor in the west's development, but management of the environment will allow the expansion of the range of opportunities in what has been called an oasis civilization. Water is the limiting resource in any development scenario and that means hard choices eventually will have to be made about what constitutes the highest and best uses of water resources. Water resource planning must, therefore, be done in the context of a planning process that is both comprehensive and long-range. The state planning coordinator's office has estimated that the population of Utah will be 2.27 million by the year 2000. This is an increase of 900,000 from the estimated present population of 1.37 million. This population projection to the year 2000 is a conservative one and does not contemplate the effect of events such as the rapid development of the synthetic fuel resources of the state.
Since water and the use of water is a means to an end and not the end itself, plans and policies for the development of Utah's water resources are subordinate to or dependent upon overall policies for the development of the state of Utah. Therefore, a state water plan is always dynamic rather than static in nature. It is a part, albeit an integral part, of a growth strategy for the state that includes other dimensions such as parks, transportation, tourism and community development.
To accomplish Utah's water development, what would prove to be a long series of legislative battles was launched in 1922, battles which, when won, would provide water for today's water needs and for tomorrow as well. The first issue then, as now, was to capture Utah's share of water draining from tributaries flowing through the state into the Colorado River. One of the greatest primary sources of water in all of Utah remains the Uinta Mountains where the average precipitation is nearly 60 inches. Most of that becomes runoff into the Green River which downstream merges with the Colorado, which in turn carries Utah water out of the state. The Central Utah Project will make possible the utilization of Utah's fair share of these waters now being lost into the Colorado River.
The project will provide critically needed water supplies to the central Utah area. Impacts of this project will be felt by practically every person and establishment in the state of Utah.
From a clear drink of water to a green field of crops to a lakeside outing with the family, these are the real benefits the Central Utah Project will provide for the future.
It truly is the fulfillment of unselfish dreams of those who realized Utah's tomorrow would depend upon the most valuable of all natural resources, water.