Category Archives: Utah Water Law Update

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Utah water-use data study underway

Two Utah engineering firms are partnering to improve the quality of water-use data in the state.  The firms will use a $300,000 contract with the state to analyze how the Division of Water Resources can improve its data collection.

Water-use data is more important than ever

Utah is one of the driest states in the nation; usually only second to Nevada.  With a population that is expected to nearly double by 2060, meeting Utah’s growing water needs is a major concern.  Water-use data is paramount to project water needs in the decades to come.  Improving data collection can help Utah manage its limited resources.

However, a 2015 Legislative audit found that a patchwork of 475 community water systems were not always accountable or accurate in submitting water-use data.  Records showed that one community in the Bear River basin had not reported any data since 2002.  Other communities failed to break out categories for water use, relied on estimates when meters were unavailable, or simply got calculations wrong.

 Efforts to improve water-use data collection

Since then, state legislators have acted to give regulators more power to force systems to report.  In 2016 the Division of Water Rights received additional funding to put an employee in the field.  The goal is to work with public water providers to encourage reporting and identify obstacles.  Additionally, Utah lawmakers directed the Division of Drinking Water to develop a point system.  Water providers are assessed points if they fail to report water-use data, or if the data is falsified.  With enough points, the water system could be deemed unsafe.

Improving water-use data will also help the state develop new water resources.  Utah is working to initiate two large water development projects.  The Lake Powell pipeline and plans to divert water from Bear River could help with Utah’s water demands.  However both plans have met with some resistance.  The high cost and potential environmental concerns have brought the projects under close scrutiny.  Governor Gary Herbert has made it clear that improving water-use data collecting is a prerequisite to large water resource development.

Both engineering firms are helping the Division of Water Resources analyze the 2015 data. They are expected to present a report to the division sometime in December.  The report should help Utah revisit those numbers and improve collection of water-use data going forward.


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Utah Water Law 2016 Final Update

The 2016 General Session of the 61st Utah State Legislature concluded on March 10, 2016.  This year’s legislative session produced a number of Utah water law bills, some of which passed and others that did not.  The following represents a list of those Utah water law bills that were passed into law during the legislative session, as well as a shorter list of those Utah water law bills that did not pass.  In all, the Utah State Legislature considered 19 water law related bills or resolutions during the 2016 legislative session.  Of those 19, the Utah Legislature passed 10 water law bills or resolutions into law.

Utah Water Law Bills/Resolutions That Passed:

  1. H.B. 222 – Nonuse Application Amendments

House Bill 222 “states that approval of one or more nonuse applications, or successive overlapping nonuse applications, does not protect a water right that is already subject to forfeiture, nor does the approval of one or more nonuse applications constitute beneficial use of the water for purposes of calculating the 15-year period in Subsection (2)(c)(i).”  Thus, under the newly passed amendments, neither an approved nonuse application, nor successive overlapping nonuse applications, protect a water right that is already subject to a forfeiture.  Furthermore, the approval of one or more nonuse applications does not constitute beneficial use.

The bill was introduced by Representative Timothy D. Hawkes, and was sponsored by Senator Margaret Dayton.  The bill passed the House by a vote of 73-1, and passed the Senate by a vote of 26-0.

  1. H.B. 305 – Water Rights and Resources Amendments (2nd Substitute)

House Bill 305 was introduced in order toe “deal[ ] with the accuracy of water use data.  HB 305 “instructs the Drinking Water Board to require certified water operator of a public water supplier, or professional engineer performing the duties of an operator, to verify the accuracy of water use and supply data submitted to the Utah Division of Drinking Water.”  HB 305 further “authorizes the Utah Division of Water Rights to collect and validate water use data,” and to “make[ ] [other] technical changes.”

House Bill 305 was introduced by Representative Joel Briscoe and was sponsored by Senator Margaret Dayton.  The bill passed the House by a 67-0 vote, and passed the Senate by a 22-0 vote.

  1. H.B. 464 – Wildfire on Public Lands and Watersheds (3rd Substitute)

House Bill 464 “requires the Conservation Commission within the Department of Agriculture and Food to work with Utah State University and certain conservation districts to: complete a study and economic analysis of certain issues regarding wildfires on public lands within Utah, including the impact of wildfires on the state’s watershed and air quality; and report to the Legislature’s Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands; and allows the Conservation Commission to contract with another state agency or private entity to complete the required study and economic analysis.study the environmental and economic impacts of wildfires on Utah public lands.”  In order to accomplish the requirements set forth by the HB 464, the Legislature “appropirate[d] in fiscal year 2016: to the Department of Argiculture and Food as a one-time appropriation, from the General Fund, one-time $200,000.”

The bill was introduced by Representative Ken Ivory, and was sponsored by Senator Evan J. Vickers.  The bill passed the House by a vote of 73-0, and passed the Senate by a 22-0 vote.

  1. H.C.R. 1 – Concurrent Resolution on Water of the U.S.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed House Concurrent Resolution 1 on March 1, 2016.  HCR 1 expresses the Governor’s and Legislature’s “support to Attorney General Sean Reyes in seeking to vacate a federal defining ‘waters of the United States.”  Specifically, HCR 1 “expresses disapproval of the expansion of the term ‘waters of the United States’ to include ephemeral drainages, dry washes, gullies, coulees, and arroyos, which only move after rain; and expresses support for Attorney General Sean Reyes in seeking to vacate this expansive rule.”

The resolution was introduced by Representative Mike Noel and was sponsored by Senator David P. Hinkins.  The resolution passed the House by a 64-9 vote, and passed the Senate through a vote of 22-4.

  1. H.J.R. 4 – Water Infrastructure (1st Substitute)

House Joint Resolution 4 “urges Utah’s congressional delegation to support the efforts of Utah water users organizations to secure title transfer of project works and project water rights free from terms and conditions that were not contemplated at the time of the repayment contracts.”  HJR 4 “calls upon Utah’s congressional delegation to support Utah water users organizations that have repaid, or wish to repay, reclamation projects to secure title transfer of project works and project water rights free from terms and conditions that were not contemplated at the time of the repayment contracts.”

The resolution was introduced by Representative Mike K. McKell, and was sponsored by Senator Deidre M. Henderson.  The resolution passed the House by a 69-0 vote, and passed the Senate on a 23-0 vote.

  1. S.B. 23 – Protected Purchaser Amendments (2nd Substitute)

Senate Bill 23 “modifies the definition of a ‘protected purchaser.'”  The modified definition of protected purchaser “means a purchaser of a certified or uncertified security, or of an interest in the security, who: gives value; does not have notice of an adverse claim to the security; obtains control of the security; and for a share a share of stock issued by a land company or a water company: pays, or whose predecessors in interest paid, an assessment levied against the share of stock for at least four of the immediate past seven years by the land company or the water company; or has used, or whose predecessors in interest have used, either directly or indirectly the water available under the share of stock issued by a water company for at least four of the immediate past seven years.”  Beyond “acquiring the rights of a purchaser, a protected purchaser acquires the purchaser’s interest in the certificated or uncertificated security, share of stock in a land company, or share of stock in a water company free of any adverse claim.”

The bill was introduced by Senator Margaret Dayton, and was sponsored by Representative Keith Grover.  The bill passed the Senate by a 29-0 vote, and passed the House on a final vote of 67-0.

  1. S.B. 28 – Water System Conservation Pricing

Senate Bill 28 “requires retail water providers to establish an increasing rate structure for culinary water,” and to “provide certain information to customers.”  According to SB 25, “A retail water provider … shall: establish a culinary water structure that; incorporates increasing block units of water used; and provides for an increase in the rate change for additional block units of water used as usage increases from one block to the next[.]”  Additionally, SB 28 requires that a retail water provider “provide in the customer billing notices, or in a notice that is distributed to customers at least annually, block unit rates and the customer’s billing cycle; and include individual customer water usage in customer billing notices.”

The bill was introduced by Senator Scott K. Jenkins, and was sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 26-2, and passed the House by a 64-9 vote.

  1. S.B. 75 – Adjudication Amendments

Senate Bill 75 “modifies the procedure for adjudicating water rights.”  Specifically, SB 75: “requires the state engineer to identify all possible claimants in a particular area during an adjudication, if the state engineer’s records are incomplete; modifies the procedure following the commencement of an action by the state engineer; states that the failure of a potential party to file a timely statement of claim constitutes a default against that party; requires the state engineer to authorize one extension to those seeking to file a statement of claim; requires the state engineer, after a full consideration of claims and an examination of the river system or water source involved, to: complete a hydrographic survey map; prepare a proposed determination of all rights to the use of the water and file it with the district court; serve notice by publication and by mail; and hold a public meeting; and makes technical changes.”

The bill was introduced by Senator Margaret Dayton, and was sponsored by Representative Scott D. Sandall.  The bill passed through the Senate by a 27-0 vote, and passed the House by a vote of 66-0.

  1. S.B. 80 / S.B. 251 – Infrastructure Funding Amendments (2nd Substitute / 3rd Substitute)

Senate Bill 80 “modifies provisions relating to infrastructure funding” to appropriate revenue from the Transportation Investment Fund to the Water Infrastructure Restricted Fund through 2012.  for FY 2017-18, the revenue will be split 80-20 between the Transportation Investment Fund and the Water Infrastructure Restricted Fund.  However, by 2012, the revenue will be entirely appropriated to the Water Infrastructure Restricted Fund.

The bill was introduced by Senator Stuart Adams, and was sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  The bill passed the Senate by a 19-10 vote, and passed the House by a vote of 48-26, with the House adding an amendment to the Senate bill.  The senate passed the House amendments by a vote of 18-8.

  1. S.C.R. 1 – Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Universal Metering of Water Systems

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 “encourages public water suppliers to implement universal metering.” The resolution: “notes that, as the second most arid state in the country, Utah needs to conserve water; states when citizens know how much water they are using, they tend to voluntarily conserve that water; and encourages public water suppliers to implement metering on all retail public and private water systems.”

The resolution was introduced by Senator Scott K. Jenkins, and was sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  The resolution passed through the Senate by a 28-0 vote, and passed the House by a vote of 59-3.

Utah Water Law Bills/Resolutions That Failed:

  1. H.B. 82 – Property Taxing Authority for Public Water
  2. H.B. 257 – Water Funding Revisions
  3. H.B. 283 – Public Utility Easement Amendments
  4. H.B. 309 – Sales and Use Tax Earmark Amendments
  5. H.B. 326 – Special and Local District Transparency Amendments
  6. H.B. 432 – Governmental Nonprofit Entity Compliance Amendments
  7. H.B. 457 – Water Quality Revisions
  8. H.B. 218 – Utah Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act
  9. S.B. 116 – Water Law – Nonprofit Corporation Amendments

Photo Cred.: allianceforwaterefficiency.org


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Water law legislative update 2016

water lawThe 2016 General Session of the 61st Utah State Legislature is nearing its conclusion.  The legislative session concludes on March 10, 2016.  During this year’s session, numerous water law related bills have been introduced, three of which are of particular interest.

Water Law – Protected Purchaser Amendments

The first of these water law bills, SB 23, entitled Water Law – Protected Purchaser Amendments, was introduced by Senator Margaret Dayton in the Utah Senate and was sponsored by Representative Keith Grover.  SB 23 aims to protect water rights owners that have in fact paid their assessments but cannot produce the original documentation of their water rights.

SB 23 also protects existing water rights owners from other persons who may find documentation of water rights and claim ownership when no assessments have been paid.  Under the terms of the bill, if assessments have been paid for at least four of the last seven years, then those water rights are protected.  As a result, paper water rights cannot exceed actual water rights that are being currently paid for and managed correctly.

SB 23 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-0, and passed the House by a vote of 67-8.  The bill is currently awaiting enrollment.

Water System Conservation Pricing

The second notable water law bill, SB 28, entitled Water System Conservation Pricing, was introduced by Senator Scott K. Jenkins and was sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  SB 28 seeks to lower water usage in Utah through tiered consumption pricing.  Under the bill, rates that Utahns will pay will rise according to different tiers of water consumption.  For instance, Senator Howard Stephenson said he received a water bill for $1,000 because he was not aware of the shift to a tiered consumption pricing system.  Senator Stephenson said that once he was aware of the tiered pricing system, he became more conscientious about his water usage, and, as a result, his next bill was only $90.  The tiered consumption pricing will help Utah to be better prepared to sustain an ever-growing population by conserving water through tiered consumption pricing.

Also under SB 28, retail water providers must provide in customers’ billing notices, or in an annual notice to customers, the block unit rates the retail water provider has established and the customer’s billing cycle, as well including the customer’s water usage in any billing notices.  This way, customers are fully aware of what pricing they will incur regarding their water usage, and customers will also be made aware of what their current water usage is for each billing cycle.

SB 28 passed the Senate by a vote of 26-2, with one senator absent or not voting, and passed the House by a vote of 64-9, with two representatives absent or not voting.  SB 28 is currently awaiting enrollment.

Infrastructure Funding Amendments

The final notable water law bill is SB 80, entitled Infrastructure Funding Amendments, which was introduced by Senator J. Stuart Adams and sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  SB 80 is intended to create a water infrastructure fund.  The water infrastructure fund would be funded by money from certain sales and tax revenue that was originally deposited in the Transportation Fund.

The Utah Legislature took public comments on SB 80 in the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee, which comments expressed concern that this money would be used on projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline.  Senator Adams, said the fund, at least initially, would be a revolving fund intended to help local water authorities improve their outdated infrastructure.

SB 80 passed out of the committee with a favorable recommendation on a 5-0 vote, with two senators absent or not voting, and was thereafter debated on the Senate floor, passing with by a 19-0 vote, with ten senators absent or not voting.  SB 80 is now set to be on the House floor for a vote after receiving a favorable recommendation from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on a 7-1, with five representatives absent or not voting.