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Utah crafting rules for spending on water, major pipeline

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A jet skiier on Lake Powell, Thursday, August 27, 2015.

A jet skiier on Lake Powell, Thursday, August 27, 2015.

Ray Grass, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — State officials will lay out a plan later this year to scrutinize proposals for major waterprojects, including a controversial pipeline pulling water from Lake Powell, before dipping into millions lawmakers set aside for water this year, officials said Tuesday.

Eric Millis, the director of Utah's Division of Water Resources, told members of a state water commission that his division is working on developing rules the state would follow before loaning money out of a special water fund.

Earlier this year, Utah legislators voted to dip into transportation money and divert more than $300 million over the next decade toward water projects. Chief among those is the proposed $1 billion Lake Powell Pipeline, which would pull Colorado River water from the lake into southwestern Utah's Washington County.

Critics, including environmental groups, say the pipeline is costly and likely unnecessary. They've pointed to a state audit last summer that found water officials don't know exactly how much water Utah residents are using or when the state will face a shortage.

Sen. Stuart Adams, a Layton Republican who sponsored the law setting aside the water money, told the watercommission Tuesday that lawmakers weren't prepared earlier this year to look at the pipeline's costs and how its construction could raise water rates of residents. But, he said, they know Utah will need a way to pay for waterprojects in the years ahead, and that's why the money was set aside.

Adams also sponsored a second law that calls for the Division of Water Resources to come up with a plan for getting better data on water use and needs and lay out a process for have independent reviews of new pipelinesor other projects before money is spent.

The plan must be presented to lawmakers by the end of October.

Lisa Rutherford, with environmental group Conserve Southwest Utah, told The Associated Press that she's glad to hear water officials are working on plans for the added scrutiny of water projects. She said there's room for morewater conservation in Washington County and officials need to provide details about funding plans to the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.

"We just are firm believers that this pipeline just is not needed at this point," said Rutherford, a resident of the Washington County city of Ivins.

The 139-mile Lake Powell pipeline, which is years away from any construction, would allow Utah to grab more of a share of the Colorado River that feeds several surrounding states.