Church reducing water usage by billions of gallons; Bishop Waddell outlines Latter-day Saint water conservation efforts

Bishop Waddell discusses record donation of water rights toward restoring Great Salt Lake, lists ongoing conservation efforts on Church properties

This article has been updated.

Bishop W. Christopher Waddell shared Friday, March 17, a sweeping vision of water conservation on Temple Square and at the Church’s temples, meetinghouses, farms and universities.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been reducing its water usage throughout the state of Utah for over 20 years, but Bishop Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, provided new information about the Church’s current and future efforts, during a presentation at the 28th annual Wallace Stegner Center Symposium at the University of Utah.

The Great Salt Lake is pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This year’s symposium focused on the future of the Great Salt Lake, which fell to the lowest level in its recorded history last year after two decades of drought in the West.

Earlier this week, the Church donated 6.5 billion gallons of annual irrigation water to the Great Salt Lake. The donation could be the largest permanent donation of water to benefit the Great Salt Lake ever received by the state. “We are committed to be a part of the solution to help the Great Salt Lake,” Bishop Waddell said.

The Church operates 2.4% of Utah’s irrigated agricultural land, and an ongoing evaluation could lead to additional donations. A future donation could happen under a new Utah law that allows water share owners to lease their shares rather than forcing them to sell shares that aren’t being used.

Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, speaks at the 28th annual Wallace Stegner Center Symposium at the University of Utah on Friday, March 17, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“In accordance with HB33 passed last year [by the Utah Legislature], we are conducting an evaluation to identify other Church-owned water assets that can feasibly be delivered to the Great Salt Lake — a continuation of our efforts that began in 2021,” Bishop Waddell said.

“As a first priority, we are evaluating the water assets within the five counties surrounding the Great Salt Lake as well as water assets diverted from Utah Lake, which we expect will have the highest likelihood of successful delivery to the lake.”

He said he hoped other large water owners would follow the Church’s example.

“We know that every bit helps, and we invite other water asset owners to consider the new opportunities afforded by recent legislative changes and determine how they might help in this important effort.”

Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric speaks at the 28th annual Wallace Stegner Center Symposium at the University of Utah on Friday, March 17, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Water conservation

The wise use of water in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stretches back to the faith’s first moments in the arid Great Basin in 1847, continues globally today, and will reach into the future.

Bishop Waddell mentioned research by BYU faculty that helps Church leaders and others know how to best save the Great Salt Lake.

“We are indebted to the subject-matter experts who study the conditions of the Great Salt Lake and the impacts and future risks of its declining water levels,” Bishop Waddell said. “We encourage engagement and responsiveness to legislative changes and other recommendations from subject-matter experts recognizing the need to act with urgency and unity towards the future we hope for — one with a healthy Great Salt Lake.”

Bishop Waddell mentioned several other ways the Church is using water wisely. For example, on its farms, the Church uses soil-moisture probes to inform irrigation decisions. It is also developing water management plans for all the Church’s agricultural properties and meetinghouses, temples and other facilities.

“We have expanded our teaching of the guiding principle of wise stewardship to emphasize the need to care for our natural resources and encourage our global employees to lead out in their efforts to implement creative solutions within the Church’s operations that [in the words of President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] ‘protect the future for all God’s children,’” he said.

In addition to its efforts to help save the Great Salt Lake and conserve water at its Utah facilities, the Church of Jesus Christ continues to study how to implement water-wise practices globally.

“Our aim is to understand more fully what sustainable landscaping should be based on local climates and identify opportunities to conserve water and natural resources,” Bishop Waddell said.

This includes improving runoff water quality, collecting and reusing stormwater, mitigating the heat-island effect and integrating the landscape into the existing and regional context.

West-facing rendering of the new Church Office Building plaza. The new grounds will feature more perennials, less grass and 30% more trees. Turf grass is being reduced by 35% and annuals by 50%. All turf grass will receive 35%-40% less water from June to September. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Temple Square

The Salt Lake Temple is far from the only part of Temple Square under renovation. Workers also are overhauling the entire landscaping plan for the space around the temple and a new Church Office Building plaza.

Those changes are designed to save vast amounts of water while maintaining the beauty of the grounds.

Bishop Waddell said the new Temple Square landscape will have one-third the grass and half the number of annual plants, which complete their lifespan in a single growing season.

In their places will be 30% more trees. The trees will establish canopies to protect plants below them and reduce what is called the heat-island effect. Heat islands are urban areas hotter than surrounding rural areas because of a lack of vegetation.

The trees also will help buildings on Temple Square stay cooler.

Rendering of the new Church Office Building plaza. The new grounds will feature more perennials, less grass and 30% more trees. Turf grass is being reduced by 35% and annuals by 50%. All turf grass will receive 35% to 40% less water from June to September. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Grass on Temple Square will be placed in a summer dormancy program that will use 35% to 40% less irrigation water from June to September, Bishop Waddell said.

When the renovation is complete, the landscape changes will save 40 million to 50 million gallons of water a year compared to pre-renovation amounts, he said. Once the grass and trees are more established, that savings will increase by an additional 15 million to 20 million gallons a year.

“Though our efforts have not been and are still not perfect — we recognize that — there is a continuing ongoing Churchwide effort to improve our care of natural resources, including the implementation of best practices and available technology to improve our water efficiency,” Bishop Waddell said.


A reduced-lawn landscape at a Church meetinghouse. In the early 2000s, the Meetinghouse Facilities Department began to adapt meetinghouse landscape standards by eco-regions within the state to better incorporate water-wise principles of regionally appropriate plant material, accompanied by a reduction of lawns. This meant a transition away from more traditional landscaping, which included 80 percent to 90 percent lawn, towards a standard of 35 percent to 40 percent lawn for landscapes. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Beginning with the Church’s Improvement and Beautification Committee in 1937, leaders encouraged lawns for member homes and meetinghouses, he said. Changing conditions have led the Church to alter its own landscaping practices.

At the turn of the 21st century, due to drought conditions in the West, the Church began to take steps toward water conservation at meetinghouses, temples and other facilities.

For example, workers have installed smart controllers, hydrometers, rain sensors and drip irrigation systems. Those measures, and higher lawnmower settings that allow grass to retain more moisture, created a 25% reduction in water used for landscaping.

From 2018 to 2022, these practices have saved nearly 40 million gallons of water a year at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Bishop Waddell said.

As the drought continued and deepened last year, the Church released an official statement on water conservation. The statement said the Church would allow some temple and meetinghouse landscapes to go dormant or brown.

The Church also established a Sustainability Office and Sustainability Leadership Committee under the Presiding Bishopric last year.

The Church now mandates a dramatic decrease in the amount of lawn at new meetinghouses. Where some buildings were surrounded by as much as 90% grass, new ones now have landscapes with as little as 35% lawn, Bishop Waddell said.

All of those changes led to a 35% reduction of water use at meetinghouses in Salt Lake County from 2020 to 2022.

Additional new water conservation practices include delaying the first watering as long as possible and applying water-saving products to lawns.

All of those efforts have allowed the Church not only to save water but also keep lawns nice despite using less water. Church lawns often look greener than others now because they use better soils and turf and plants that can thrive with less water, Bishop Waddell said.

For older buildings, the Church is in the midst of a retrofit pilot program designed to use sustainability landscape principles.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

BYU has reduced its culinary water use by two-thirds over the past 20 years, Bishop Waddell said.

The campus now conducts regular water audits and uses smart irrigation systems and water-wise landscaping, including drought-tolerant plants and mulch made of campus green waste.

“This mulch reduces water usage in flower and shrub beds by 30%,” Bishop Waddell said. “In response to heightened water concerns over the last decade, most of BYU’s campus is now watered using secondary sources. The water master monitors stream flows and reduces flows, depending on conditions, by as little as 20% in spring to as much as 100% in late summer. As needed, campus lawns go dormant during dry spells.”


In addition to all the Church has done and is doing to conserve water, Bishop Waddell said prayer is critical and has proven providential.

In June 2022, the Church invited Latter-day Saints to “join with friends of other faiths in prayer to our Heavenly Father for rain and respite from the devastating drought.” The invitation emphasized that “we all play a part in preserving the critical resources needed to sustain life — especially water — and we invite others to join us in reducing water use wherever possible.”

Utah’s mountains have had a historic winter for water-packed snow. The Utah Department of Natural Resources reports that as of March 16, 2023, water content in the snowpack across Utah is at an all-time high for the date.

“We are grateful for the snow and rain we have received this season — though perhaps not when we are shoveling our driveways,” Bishop Waddell said. “We should acknowledge God’s hands in providing us this blessing and that our work is not done yet. We must continue with all diligence if we are to make the difference that is needed. May the Lord grant us all the faith and perseverance to be wise stewards of our water, our land and the resources that flow through them.”

Read his full remarks from the 2023 Stegner Symposium: “A Perspective from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

This map shows the location of the North Point Consolidated Irrigation Company canal. On Wednesday, March 15, 2023, the Church announced the donation of its water shares in this canal — possibly the largest permanent donation of water to benefit the Great Salt Lake that Utah has ever received. The 20,000 acre-feet donated are equivalent to a water supply for 20,000 single-family homes. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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