Stewardship and the concept of yield in landscape water conservation

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Contribution to Book

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Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment


George B. Handley, Terry B. Ball, and Steven L. Peck


Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University

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Growing up in what was rural Salt Lake County, my peers and I never knew a time when questions of water did not flow through our lives as surely as it flowed through the canals and irrigation ditches. We played in the flood of water pumped from the ditch onto our lawn, and we floated homemade rafts down the canal in the heat of the summer. We listened in amazement to descriptions of how the canals were built and wondered when we would be big enough to be asked to join the cooperative crew that skimmed the ditches in the summer to keep the water flowing. We saw the technology of weed control change from dragging a burning tire down the ditch to using a propane torch. We pondered the stories of water disputes, and we watched our mothers hover over open ditches and warn us of their danger. We also learned why the water was really there as we rose at two o’clock in the morning to take our water turn and irrigate our crops. To us, irrigation water was obviously a shared resource with limited availability. But it was also part of our lifestyle and actually somewhat of an entitlement. Legally we owned the land and the water rights that accompanied it. Therefore, we believed, as long as we were on the land, we were entitled to the water to irrigate that land. As high-desert dwellers and descendants of pioneers, we felt that satisfaction of watching little rivulets of water run down dry furrows was as much our right as having the Wasatch Range tower above us or enjoying the cool, dry breezes of a summer evening. Times have changed along the Wasatch Front. Much of the farmland has been sold for development, and many ditches have been removed. Nevertheless, there is still a demand for water to sustain new and existing homes and businesses. These new households demand water, yet they may be located on old dry farms or steep foothills where water has historically been absent. Not only do they demand water, but they are using it at one of the highest per capita rates in the nation.1 Concurrent with this demand, there is an ever-increasing realization that beneficial use of water should include environmental uses such as in-stream flows for fisheries. A 1997 editorial responding to demands for increased water rates stated: “Once again, it appears City officials want to discourage residents from keeping beautiful lawns and gardens. They say home owners can get by with half as much water. Most serious gardeners know better. In a desert, beautification and water go together.”2 Are beautification and water inexorably linked? The ever-increasing demands for a finite yet renewable resource are forcing us to ask important questions of our stewardship of water.

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