In the upcoming election, Utah voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to rewrite a provision relating to municipal water rights and sources of water supply. If adopted, Amendment D will formally recognize the ability of a city to provide water to customers outside of its boundary, a practice that has been in effect for better than half a century.
If voters decide to adopt Amendment D, companion legislation will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021, that among other things will ensure that water rates are reasonable for all water customers inside or outside of a city’s boundary. Salt Lake City Public Utilities provides water to most residents of Millcreek, Holladay and Cottonwood Heights. The provision of water to these areas predated the incorporation of these cities by many decades and was a response to meeting the significant growth and development needs in Salt Lake County. Salt Lake City invested in securing the water resources and infrastructure to serve this area and promote the public health and economic success of the region.
Residents of those communities pay a premium over residents of Salt Lake City on their water bills in order to equalize amounts paid by Salt Lake City residents from other taxes, and thus charge everyone a fair rate for the cost of storing, transporting, treating and delivering water to our homes and businesses. It’s a practice that follows industry standards for rate fairness and defensibility, but which the state constitution and state law never explicitly recognized. Besides Salt Lake City, at least 23 other Utah municipalities provide water to customers outside their boundaries. This is in spite of the current constitutional provisions, which restrict the sale of water rights and make no provision for the sale of water outside the providing cities’ boundaries.
In order to modernize the constitutional provisions governing municipalities providing water to reflect reality, ensure continuing service to all existing customers and require the continuation of charging reasonable rates to all customers, the state constitution needs to be changed. That is the purpose of Amendment D on the ballot this fall. This is about fairness to all water customers and having the law of our state reflect a reality that has developed since the constitution was originally written.
This amendment to the Utah Constitution is not controversial. The proposal for this amendment passed the Utah legislature unanimously. No one submitted an opposition to passage of the amendment for the official state voter guide. Yet unless Utah voters support the amendment by voting for it, the amendment will not become law. Instead, the current, outdated constitutional provision will remain in our law.
The current constitutional provision is inconsistent with the reality of our water delivery systems, which have developed in orderly fashion over time. Amendment D benefits customers throughout the state who live outside of the cities which provide their water. Those customers have been paying a premium rate for water to help pay the cost of building and maintaining the water system we share with residents of our neighboring, providing city. The amendment does not adversely affect residents of the providing cities — hence the unanimous vote of the Utah Legislature and no opposition to the amendment in the voter guide.
This is fundamentally about fairness, a fact recognized by almost everyone. Still, we need the help of every voter in Utah to fix this issue and guarantee essential fairness to all. Please vote for Amendment D to the Utah Constitution.
Jeff Silvestrini is the mayor of Millcreek. Erin Mendenhall is the mayor of Salt Lake City. Rob Dahle is the mayor of Holladay. Mike Peterson is the mayor of Cottonwood Heights.