News Feature | January 12, 2018

Utah Bills Would Upend Water Utility Policy

Sara Jerome
utah reg new

Proposals under consideration in the Utah legislature could dramatically curb the powers of water systems in the state.

The bills from Republican state lawmakers would add new requirements for Salt Lake City and other systems that provide water outside city limits, according to the Deseret News. State Reps. Kim Coleman and Mike Noel introduced the proposals.

"The state engineer and other critics have questioned Salt Lake City's supply of water to areas outside its municipal boundaries — such as Alta and area ski resorts — through surplus water contracts that can be terminated at will with 30 days' notice," the report said.

"State Engineer Kent Jones, testifying at an earlier legislative hearing, said a temporary water supply should not be used to foster development of permanent infrastructure such as homes and resorts," it continued.

Coleman's HB124 "requires cities or special service districts to post maps of service areas, the cost of water being assessed to users, the description of any water rights being used, approved uses for the water rights and the point of diversion. The state engineer would be the gatekeeper of the information," the report said.

Coleman explained the rationale behind her proposal.

"This bill is a result of the Governor's Recommended State Water Strategy Report completed last July, which pointed out several vulnerabilities in how we are managing our collective water resources," Coleman said. "How we distribute and account for water is no longer adequate for today's world. We lack a comprehensive picture of our overall inventory, who currently controls it and how they are managing and distributing these resources. Before we can determine where we are going, we need to establish where we are now."

Meanwhile, Noel's HB135 would remove the authority cities have over watersheds, with an eye on Salt Lake City's control of the Wasatch Canyons.

"Both bills are likely to set up a wave of contentious fights this legislative session, where Salt Lake City will seek to retain its regulatory authority over the canyons — and the water supply that serves nearly 1 million residents — and its ability to leave surplus water contracts as is," the report said.

In other Utah water news, officials say the state is improving how it tracks water data.

"Two years after a blistering legislative audit seared state water managers over their lack of knowledge about how much water Utahns are using and where, a follow-up analysis released [in December] notes progress in data collection," the Deseret News reported.

"The audit found two divisions within the Utah Department of Natural Resources — water rights and water resources — have since conducted a significant overhaul on water data collection that emphasizes better collaboration and a process less likely marred by errors," the report continued.

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