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DON'T DRIBBLE AWAY UTAH'S WATER

Recent news that Utah wouldn't gain much from selling its unused portion of Colorado River water to California and Arizona ought to put to rest any further discussions on the subject.

Efforts to earn money from water to which Utah is entitled would do little more than create the impression that states downriver have a valid claim to it. Instead, Utah ought to satisfy itself by knowing it has enough excess to handle a booming population, provided residents here learn to conserve and use the resource wisely.State officials have told lawmakers that, figuring in the state's projected needs for the next 50 years, only about 110,000 acre-feet of Utah's Colorado River water will remain unused each year. Because that water flows freely downstream, Utah's chances of forcing people in other states to pay for what they now receive gratis are slim, and the amount of revenue generated by such a relatively small amount of undeveloped water would be minor.

The state has initiated a study to see whether it would be feasible to lease the excess water. But even that step probably wouldn't work unless Utah and other upriver states found ways to capture the water and release it to only those who paid.

And leasing might keep California from changing some of its bad water policies, such as the one that gives agriculture top priority for using Colorado River water.

Given Utah's recent unprecedented growth rate, the state would be wise to count on needing more than the official 50-year project would indicate. The best policy would be one that leaves excess water unencumbered.