Water law legislative update 2016
The 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.
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.