Utah lawmakers advance bill that seeks water sources outside state lines

Feb 12, 2024, 1:50 PM | Updated: 1:52 pm

FILE: Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, presides over the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake...

FILE: Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, presides over the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY— A Utah Senate committee voted to advance a bill that seeks to tap into new water sources for Utah, namely those beyond state lines.

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams is sponsoring SB 211, and presented it to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee on Monday.

What the new water sources bill would accomplish

The bill would create an agent that looks for new Utah water sources. The agent, according to the bill text, would be in the form of a new Water District Water Development Council.

In Monday’s hearing, Adams explained the council would be charged with negotiating with other states on potential agreements to bring water into Utah.

He floated an example of something Nevada is already doing. That state is helping California develop desalinization plants that turn ocean water into water that people can use and drink. In exchange, Nevada gets a share of some of the water California takes from the Colorado River. Adams suggested that Utah should do the same.

“It creates new water for California and it creates new water for Nevada … we are behind the curve,” Adams said.

According to Adams, this route would have a direct impact on how much water Utah keeps from the Colorado River. Each year, Utah gets more than a quarter of its yearly water supply from the Colorado River, according to the Division of Water Resources. Utah is allotted 23% of the river’s water in the upper basin.

In theory, this plan would also ensure that more water would stay in Lake Powell, which, just one year ago, hit a record low.

Concerns with the bill

Several people who commented at Monday’s hearing were concerned that the bill would make the council’s decisions exempt from Utah’s open records laws. In other words, the meetings and notes would not be accessible under Utah’s GRAMA law.

However, Adams justified his reasoning.

“If you’re going to talk to people about their water, most people carry a shotgun or a pony shovel with them,” Adams said speaking metaphorically.

“When they’re talking, they’re already guarded. Even this bill … makes [other states] very nervous.”

The committee ultimately voted to advance the bill, sending it to the full Senate for a vote.

Other reading: Utah’s winter water update



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Utah lawmakers advance bill that seeks water sources outside state lines