Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Joanna Endter-Wada


Joanna Endter-Wada


Christopher Lant


James Long


In the arid western United States (U.S.), population expansion is dependent on water supply. With the majority of the water being consumed in agriculture, municipalities often obtain water supply needed for growth from agriculture. Water supply reallocation generally occurs through agricultural-to-urban water right transfers. This trend in agricultural-to-urban water transfers drives the question of how to strike a balance between agricultural and urban water needs in rapidly growing arid regions. In the Intermountain West region of the United States, Utah is a state with a rapidly growing population and limited water supply. This study occurred between 2015 and 2016, using a multi-method approach to understand agricultural-to-urban water transfers in Utah. Inperson interviews, participant observation, and secondary data collection methods focused on existing challenges and opportunities for striking a balance between these water interests. Data revealed that water transfers out of agriculture and into municipalities are more significant to areas of Utah experiencing rapid population growth. Policy challenges arise as water is seen as a monetary asset, incentivizing the reintroduction of old water rights into an established water priority system. Further challenges occur as municipal uses are given preference in state development strategies over agricultural uses. This preference can incentivize both the selling of water to municipalities and the gathering of large municipal water right portfolios. Balancing growth and water interests in transitioning landscapes is suggested through the use of agreements, as well as regional planning and collaboration. This transition, if not properly planned and accounted for in the water budget, can create dilemmas with water availability, delivery, and use as separate water providers prepare for growth within their own geographic boundaries. The Mt. Nebo Water Agency provides the opportunity for stakeholder involvement and boundary-spanning to occur between regional municipal and agricultural interests. Stakeholder involvement and boundary-spanning solutions are considered crucial factors for regional planning, particularly with resources like water that traverse political boundaries.



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