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Utah Legislative Update: One Utah Lawmaker Wants a ‘Water Agent’ Who Will Go Looking For Water In Other States

We sit in legislative hearings, read bills, and track the latest ongoings so you don’t have to. This week exemplifies why you want to keep us lurking in the halls of state capitols in the nation’s two driest states. Bills for water grabs and major efforts for better regulating the Great Salt lake are before us. Some bills are getting gutted while others are giving us gut punches. Such is life in any capitol. Also, see some more musings on the Nevada Supreme Court’s latest decision regarding the Colorado River and read an update from one jurist on the new water courts in the state.

The Utah ‘Water Agent’ Is Not a Character From Orwell, It’s in a Bill

This week proved that no western state near Utah’s borders is safe. On Thursday, Sen. Stuart Adams dropped SB 211, which would create the Utah Water Agent – an official tasked with establishing a strategy to pursue out-of-state waters for Utah’s in-state uses.In other words, pursue more pipelines.

The last time we checked, there wasn’t any water available for Utah in Nevada. And I assume that Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, and Wyoming feel the same way. We hope this isn’t another exercise in engineering a pipeline to the Pacific Ocean or Mississippi River. But expectations are low. We worry about how this effort could be used to further projects like the Cedar City Pipeline and a host of other projects in Southern Utah.The bill would allow the Utah governor to appoint the Water Agent and exempts that position from pesky little requirements like making its records public and from undergoing certain public procurement practices.  

Additionally, the bill creates a council made of the state’s four largest water districts, exempting the council from audits and from being a de facto government entity and all the accountability that comes along with it. The council would – you guessed it – work to develop water projects, among other things.

Utah, known for its libertarian streak, sure does like spending millions, as this bill does, on creating bigger government water entities that have no accountability for how they spend taxpayer dollars –– see Colorado River Authority of Utah. But the official title of the bill is: Generational Water Infrastructure Amendments. But I don’t know if this bill is solely for the sake of tomorrow’s children.  We will oppose this legislation until the bitter end. No state’s water supply is safe when Utah lawmakers are in session.



HB 453 Looks to Tame the “Wild West” of Mining at Great Salt Lake

As mentioned last week, Rep. Casey Snider has dropped another behemoth of a bill in HB 453 GSL Amendments. This bill aims to create a process by which water rights on the lake – those held by the mineral extraction companies and are significantly junior compared to the senior rights upstream – are now effectively put under a doctrine of prior appropriation through a proposed “Distribution Management Plan.” 

In essence, it would give the state more control in dealing with the mineral companies who – under current law — could all but drain Great Salt Lake if they could put all their water rights to use. 

We hope to see increased clarity around some of the accountability measures in the bill and unsurprisingly, some of it’s stronger provisions have already been scrubbed – a measure that would have allowed the state to impose mineral production limits, and one that would limit pilot projects (i.e. new lithium extraction) to just 5 acre-feet of water, for example. Still, it does give the state more tools to guarantee protections for the lake and based on yesterday’s committee hearing, it seems like the legislature is serious about making industry take their share of cuts to preserve Great Salt Lake. 

If agriculture has to sacrifice, so does industry, says HB 453, and extractors may already be getting the message. Compass Minerals announced this week that it will abandon its lithium project at Great Salt Lake.Rep. Snider closed out the hearing, following a showdown between an industry representative and House Speaker Mike Schulz: “Welcome to Agriculture, you oughta join us in prayer that it rains.” The bill was sent on to the House with a favorable recommendation by the committee. More to come as it moves through the legislature.

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