Utah, among the most arid states in the nation, may someday have to contemplate importing water from another state.
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, is proposing to set up an infrastructure to do just that with SB211. The bill would establish a new entity to negotiate all things water in the state.
Adams’ measure — heard before the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee Monday — passed, but not without questions about transparency and accountability.
Adams’ bill sets up a “generational” view of water development via a new council to be established that negotiates water resources for 50 to 75 years. It includes the big players in water management in Utah — with Weber Basin, Jordan Valley, Central Utah and Washington County, among others, to be the water wranglers at the table.
Adams was passionate in his presentation of the measure, describing his Utah roots and the importance of looking toward the future of water in the state.
“If it weren’t for the decisions that those people had made — that 100-year vision — we probably wouldn’t be able to sustain the challenges we’re having with water. And my concern is that we’re all focused on the moment. We’re focused on today,” he said. “We’ve really lost, in my opinion, what I would call that 100-year vision. This bill actually tries to restore that 100-year vision.”
This is what the bill would do:
- Establish the water development council to determine water “generational” needs 75 years from now.
- Put in place a “water agent” to negotiate those water needs with other states, including closed-door discussions with the major players.
- Act in an advisory fashion.
Adams stressed that Nevada is already aggressively in pursuit of desalination contracts with California and that, essentially, Utah is not keeping pace.
“Nevada is dry and working with California to build desalination plants in California, and then holding their Colorado River water. What that does is it creates new water for California and it creates new water for Nevada. We are behind the curve. We’re talking about it, and we have talked about it for years, but we’re not doing it. This bill puts together a commission agent to actually let us do that,” Adams said.
But Adams got pushback about the transparency aspects of his bill — which proposes to bring heavy hitters in to negotiate behind closed doors, at least at the outset. That’s the way the Colorado River negotiations were hammered out more than a century ago.
But charting a course for Utah’s water future should not have that type of secrecy, argued Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. He said handing that much power over to water districts is akin to being complicit in a path toward corruption.
Steve Erickson, with the Great Basin Water Network, also urged caution, saying that establishing one more water entity is not a fix, but a drain on precious resources.
The bill has now advanced to see another debate.