Look out. Here they come.
In 2010 the US Census put Tooele County’s population at 58,218. In about 35 years from now, state planners expect that number to hit nearly 160,000.
That’s an additional 1.6 bodies for every man, women and child currently living in the county.
The Utah Population Estimates Committee, an arm of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, estimates that by 2050 the population of Tooele County will reach 157,821. That is a 171 percent increase since the 2010 census.
UPEC’s estimates for population growth were used by the Utah Foundation in its report “A Snapshot of 2050,” which was released last month. The foundation is a non-profit organization that provides public policy research.
The report paints a picture of a continuing trend of urban development along an expanding Wasatch Front.
Tooele County is expected to be the third fastest growing county in the state, according to that report.
Washington County’s 2050 population is expected to be 242 percent greater than its 2010 census count. Wasatch County comes in second with an anticipated 225 percent growth rate. Tooele County’s 171 percent puts it in third place.
Summit County at 143 percent, and Utah County with 136 percent, round out the top five list of counties in the report’s list of population changes.
People moving west from other Wasatch Front counties as open spaces disappear will make up a good portion of the county’s future growth, according to Chris Sloan, local real estate broker and a member of the Tooele City Planning Commission.
“There’s not much land left between Payson and Brigham City,” he said. “You can’t go east because of the mountains or you end up in Summit County where prices are a lot higher. West, to Tooele, is the only direction left.”
However, Tooele County’s growth may run into a problem — water.
“I haven’t been here long enough to look at it in detail, but from what I’ve seen, I think availability of water might limit that kind of growth,” said Blaine Gehring, Tooele County planner who has been on the job for three months.
Other infrastructure needs, like wastewater, will also need to be evaluated if the county does grow at the forecasted rate, he said.
“There’s a limit to how many septic tanks the ground can handle,” said Gehring. “With that kind of growth, a sewer system would need to be considered.”
The county’s general plan directs growth towards cities, towns, and areas that already have a higher density of population and the infrastructure to provide services, according to Gehring.
Encouraging growth in existing high density areas will prevent sprawl and help maintain the county’s open space and rural feel, he said.
The clustering of residential growth in compact communities close to jobs, businesses, and recreational and civic opportunities, is called “smart growth” by planners, according to Nicole Cline, former Tooele County planner who currently works as a planner for the University of Utah.
The county received a low score for smart growth in a study completed last month by Smart Growth America, an organization that promotes smart growth practices.
“That’s because the study looked at the entire county, and with our rural areas, we appear to be spread put with low density,” Cline said. “But if you just look at the northern part of the county where most of the population is, we are more compact.”
Cline points to Overlake in Tooele City, and to Stansbury Park as two communities that were planned to be compact, walkable communities.
Researchers at the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center have found that people in compact, connected metro areas tend to be safer, healthier and live longer than their peers in more sprawling areas.
Tooele County’s general plan needs to be updated to prepare the county for the growth that lies ahead, according to Gehring.
The current county general plan begins with a population forecast of 42,657 for Tooele County by 2015. However, the US Census Bureau estimated the county’s 2013 population to be 60,762.
“The county’s general plan is about ready for an update,” Gehring said. “Most general plans look out 20 years into the future. I understand our plan was developed in the 90s.”
A lot of factors influence population growth, one of those being jobs and economic growth, according to the foundation’s report.
“The rates of growth are highly dependent on the state’s economic performance,” the report concludes.
State planners have high expectations for Tooele County’s job growth in the next four decades.
UPEC projections show the county’s local jobs growing from 22,001 in 2010 to 56,854 in 2050 for a 158 percent increase.
The largest growth is an additional 9,921 jobs in administrative and waste industries followed by adding 5,157 jobs in transportation and warehousing.
While much of Tooele County’s growth will come from in-migration, or people moving into the county, the county will also experience natural growth as the number of births outpaces the number of deaths.
In the last five years the number of births in Tooele County has exceeded the number of deaths by an average of 772 per year.
Growth is not a new issue for Tooele County, according to Vicki Griffith, broker for Premier Utah Real Estate of Tooele County.
From 1990 to 1995, the county averaged 2.2 percent growth. Then in 1996, the county posted a growth rate of 4.2 percent. The growth rate rose consistently each year until it peaked at 8.5 percent in 2000 before slowly declining to 3 percent in 2008 as the county experienced the Great Recession. The growth rate dropped to 1.6 percent in 2009 and was 1.3 percent in 2013.
Gehring believes Tooele County’s projected growth, along with the ensuing challenges of water, infrastructure, and other services, confirms his first thoughts about Tooele County.
“When I first came to Tooele County,” he said, “I felt, and still believe today, that one of the most pressing challenges for the county will be maintaining a rural atmosphere under pressure of growth from Salt Lake County.”