Utah Legislature passes criticized, generational out-of-state water bill

Feb 29, 2024, 3:04 PM

Fields in Utah County, near Spanish Fork, on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024....

Fields in Utah County, near Spanish Fork, on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. (Scott G Winterton/Deseret News 2024)

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News 2024)

SALT LAKE CITY— The Utah House and Senate have passed a bill that creates a way to get new water sources from outside state lines.

SB211 is sponsored by Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, with House Speaker Mike Schultz , R-Hooper, as the floor sponsor. It would create a new council with the authority to negotiate with other nearby states to get more water into Utah.

The council would also become part of a commission with several major water districts and the Utah Division of Water Resources.

In a previous committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Adams said early Utahns looked long into the future when it came to water. He said the same is needed from people today.

“They didn’t have a view just for their kids and their grandkids, but they looked five generations down the road … and had a 100-year vision,” Adams said. “I’m trying to have that same 100-year vision.”

For example, the council would have the authority to negotiate a water trade from California, similar to something Nevada is already doing.

Nevada is helping the Golden State build desalinization plants to turn ocean water into usable freshwater. In exchange, Nevada gets to keep some of the water California uses from the Colorado River.

This council would allow Utah to try something like that or a host of other options.

Behind closed doors

However, this bill has gotten some public criticism since the new council’s work would be exempt from Utah’s public records laws. This would make it impossible to know with whom or what they are negotiating.

Adams has defended this portion of the bill citing that negotiations with water are very sensitive and need to be approached carefully.

“When you talk about water most people bring a shotgun and a pony shovel with them,” Adams said. “It’s very difficult to have those conversations, but they’re going to have to…some of them very very significant.”

Adams also clarified that while this council would work behind closed doors, neither they, nor the commission can:

  • Use taxpayer money
  • Create policies
  • Own or alter any existing Utah water rights
  • Own property

Adams said they must also abide by the direction of the state water engineer. They are also required to report annually to the house speaker, senate president, the governor, and multiple legislative committees.

The bill is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

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Utah Legislature passes criticized, generational out-of-state water bill