BUSINESS + ECONOMY

Utah farmers gain more flexibility with water rights under proposed bill

Mar 8, 2023, 2:20 PM | Updated: 2:28 pm

This years record-breaking runoff has made it difficult for Utah farmers to start planting their sp...

FILE: Near Fremont, Utah along Highway 72, a farmer cuts crop of alfalfa for uses on a nearby dairy farm. (Don Grayston)

(Don Grayston)

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill sitting on Gov. Cox’s desk aims to get rid of the “use it or lose it” mentality at the heart of agricultural water rights in Utah.  It’s a bill that has the state’s farming community rejoicing.

That’s because the bill provides assurances for what a Utah farmer, like President of Utah Farm Bureau Ron Gibson, can or cannot do with their water rights.

For example, under H.B.33 Instream Water flow Amendments if a farmer has 100 shares of water but uses just 80 shares, the farmer won’t lose the unused 20 shares. Instead, they’ll be able to use it elsewhere on their farm.

That, or leave it for public benefit and receive compensation.

“It incentives us to conserve as opposed to before the snowpack (when) we were incentivized not to conserve,” said Gibson.  

Gibson says the Utah water rights bill also allows farmers to diversify their farms with less risk.

“Sometimes, for example, we do a lot of drip irrigation and with that we use about 40% less water,” said Gibson. Later in the season, farmers can use the water they saved on crops that need it more. 

If signed by Gov. Cox, the Utah water rights bill will be in effect on July 1st. 

“We are really excited to have this piece of legislation,” said Gibson. “This is something that gives us a little bit of certainty as we go ahead and continue to be good stewards of the land and water in the state … ”

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Utah farmers gain more flexibility with water rights under proposed bill