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Survey finds Utah residents willing to have smaller lawns, smaller homes to cut water use

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah residents are willing to consider smaller lawns and smaller homes to save water for state farms, a new survey suggests.

About nine in 10 people are willing to cut back their water use for landscaping, with most saying they are also willing to spend their own money to make the adjustments, according to an online survey by the regional planning group, Envision Utah.

As part of the survey, respondents chose from five pictures of landscaped homes featuring different combinations of lawns, scrubs, plants and design elements that don't need water. The most popular option, chosen by 33 percent of respondents, was a landscaping design with a small lawn that would use 25 percent less water.

The option that would use the least amount of water, a desert-like design with almost no grass, finished as the third most popular option. The most water heavy design, featuring a large lawn, garnered only 13 percent of the vote.

The most common motivations for saving water were to ensure water is available for farms and food production and to conserve lakes and streams for wildlife.

Ross Ford, executive vice president of the Utah Home Builders Association, said the survey matches a trend of home buyers gravitating toward smaller lots and shared open spaces, The Salt Lake Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1MYwZ1z)

"Whenever those opportunities open up, we tend to see more developers gravitate toward that," Ford said.

Utah Farm Bureau Federation CEO Randy Parker said the results are a vote of confidence for the state's farmers and ranchers. But Parker said he doubts Utah residents' words will translate into action.

"We've been raised where we have our little quarter-acre piece of land and our castle on it, and that's our little piece of heaven," Parker told the Tribune. "The poll says that they are willing to live in smaller homes and maybe even change that dynamic to have more living space going into the air, but I'm going to have to see it."

The part of the survey asking people to choose different water usage plans tied to pictures of landscaped houses incorporated questions about whether people are supportive of water development projects, such as the Lake Powell Pipeline.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, criticized the survey's suggestion that the state is running out of water and must implement expensive development projects. Frankel pointed to a state audit released in May that found state water officials don't know exactly how much water Utah residents are using or when the state will face a shortage.

That audit, released in May, found a water surplus on the Wasatch Front where housing developments have already overtaken large swaths of farmland. Frankel said he thinks there are inexpensive alternatives that can cut down water use rather than having to appease what he perceives as pressure from the water industry to put Utah in debt on major projects.

Envision Utah CEO Ari Bruening denied that the survey presented a doomsday water future, saying it helps give decision makers a sense for what Utah residents want for the future.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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