Utah Rivers Council proposes change on how water is paid for in the state

Oct 26, 2022, 5:00 PM

Low water is pictured at the Great Salt Lake and a new bill is aiming to study the lake...

Low water levels are pictured in the Great Salt Lake near Tooele County on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Recently, the Utah Rivers Council said in a new report water in Utah is wasted because users know it’s cheap.

The Council wants to see a change to Utah’s tax code, by phasing out the practice of collecting for water use through property taxes.

Doing so, the Council said those entities that do not pay property tax (churches, schools, and universities) pay for their use of water. Most of these entities are the biggest water users within the state. 

More on the proposed change by the Utah Rivers Council

The council presented this proposal to Utah lawmakers five times. However, each time lawmakers have blocked their attempts.

“We studied 342 water suppliers across ten western states, and we learned that Utah is vastly over-collecting property taxes for water,” said Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zach Frankel. “Those over-collections lower the price for water and they lead to the wasting of water because water is so cheap.”

Frankel hopes that by getting rid of the property tax on water, the free market will dictate its price. By doing so, Frankel said both cost and water usage will decline. 

That said, a local water conservancy district argues they need the property tax revenue. The conservancy said the revenue pays to replace aging pipes and water treatment plants.

Salt Lake’s Public Utilities director, Laura Briefer, explains some fear they may not be able to afford a change to Utah’s tax code to take place. 

“As we continue to raise water rates to pay for aging infrastructure, we start getting concerned that some of our more vulnerable populations can’t afford basic water service,” said Briefer.

Also, the Council says its proposed change would more adequately reflect the usage of water. 

“Property tax collections for water act to reduce the price of water that consumers pay in their monthly water bills,” the council writes in the report. 

The Council said that by phasing out paying for water through property taxes, water rates will increase and demand will substantially decrease.

“Our analysis demonstrates that we could lower municipal water demand in the Great Salt Lake watershed by 25% by giving a tax break to Utah taxpayers,” they cited in their report. 

Lastly, the group says making this change will put more water into the shrinking Great Salt Lake.

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Utah Rivers Council proposes change on how water is paid for in the state