POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Per Capita water consumption bill passed in House

Feb 14, 2023, 8:57 AM

shrinking great salt lake...

FILE: The Great Salt Lake as seen on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. Photo credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education, and media organizations to help inform people about the history and the plight of the Great Salt Lake.

A bill redefining how water use and consumption is reported in Utah passed the House Monday, despite opposition from Great Salt Lake environmental groups. 

SB119 would change how some Utah water districts, including Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Washington counties, calculate how much water is consumed. Supporters say changing how data is collected to a per capita consumptive use would make Utah’s numbers more comparable to data from other Western states.

Mark Stratford, attorney for the Jordan Valley District Water Conservancy, said it will more accurately depict how much water Utah is actually using. 

“[This bill] goes to great lengths to ensure full transparency,” Stratford said. 

But many Great Salt Lake-oriented organizations, primarily the Utah Rivers Council and Save our Great Salt Lake’ opposed this legislation, saying that it was in essence a “gag order” and would lessen water use transparency. A line in the bill blocks certain agencies from calculating how much water their customers use if the number disagrees with state calculations. 

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said the bill would “ignore vast quantities of water being lost in secondary water delivery systems that are unmetered.” In an alert to Great Salt Lake activists before the committee hearing, Utah Rivers Council said water conservancy districts want to hide how Utahns waste water and are “tired of being criticized in national media for being the country’s #1 highest, municipal water user (per person).”

Katie Newburn, education and outreach director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, said the bill would obscure how much total consumptive use there is, especially in Northern Utah. 

“We cannot afford any under-representation of our water consumption,” she said. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Michael McKell (R-Spanish Fork) refuted these claims, stating that there are organizations that want Utah to look bad compared to neighboring states.

“In the Colorado River Basin, we are the only state that doesn’t have a consumptive use standard. It’s ironic that there are folks that want to make us look bad,” he said. 

McKell said that this new way of per capita consumptive water measurement will create an “apples to apples” water usage comparison with neighboring states in the Colorado River Basin. 

The bill passed committee with a 10 to 1 vote. Rep. Gay Lynn Bennion (D-Cottonwood Heights) voted against it. However, fellow Democrat Rep. Doug Owens, (D-Millcreek) voted for it. He is one of the chairs of the newly-formed “Great Salt Lake Caucus.” 

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Per Capita water consumption bill passed in House