Utah manages population growth in an era of Western drought
Ever since European settlers crossed the Rockies, access to water has defined the development of the American West. Water irrigates farms, hydrates households, powers machinery. But a prolonged drought that began in 2000 has become the Southwest’s driest 22-year period in 12 centuries, according to analyses of tree-ring records. This cycle of dryness comes amid a population boom in drought-prone states like Utah. Its residents grew by 18% to 3.25 million from 2010 to 2020, faster than any other state, even before the work-from-home trend took hold. That migration has pushed up the price of real estate and, as elsewhere, sparked debate in Utah over housing availability and affordability for average families. But the debate is increasingly laced with other concerns: Will there be enough water for everyone? And who gets priority?