Controversial water bill passes Senate

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:48 AM

Antone Clark

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation outlining the process municipalities may use to determine water rights has passed the Senate following two days of contentious debate on who should be empowered to make those decisions.

SB 109, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, passed the Senate by a 19-9 vote Tuesday, after several lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include a sunset date.

The bill allows a municipality to request an advisory opinion on potential water rights, through the Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman, and for that opinion to be delivered within 120 days.

It also allows the state water engineer to determine the quantity of water that is beneficially used and limits approval of the application based on that determination.

Okerlund says the bill, two years in the making, is the most important measure the Legislature will pass this year. He championed the bill as a means for municipalities to get quicker answers on potential “paper water shares” in determining the validity of water rights, often tied to developments.

He described the bill as a delicately crafted compromise. He said a sunset clause on the process would have been a deal killer with the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Several of lawmakers think the bill gives too much control to the state and reaches out to municipalities at the expense of other water users.

Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said the genesis of the bill is to decide whether the Legislature or the judiciary should be making water decisions. “Why have we started doing special treatment for municipalities?”

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