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Duo call for study of water issues

Ure, Gowans file bill that would create task force

Published: Thursday, Jan. 29 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

After a failed attempt to study water funding issues last year, lawmakers want to dive back in and study everything else about it.

Reps. David Ure, R-Kamas, and Jim Gowans, D-Tooele, have filed HB247, a bill that would create a two-year task force to study the sticky issues of water rights and groundwater management. Rep. Mike Styler, R-Delta, has filed identical legislation under HB243.

The legislation, which Ure expects to be debated before a House committee next week, seeks a $197,000 General Fund appropriation to pay for studies that would ultimately lead to a final report by 2005.

Utah is facing a surfeit of water woes, explained Ure.

"(The legislation) came about because of the problems brought to us concerning water across the state," said Ure. "They are complex and also political."

Of paramount concern is overappropriation.

State water engineer Jerry Olds told lawmakers in September that he needed more authority to decide who gets the water and in what priority due to the fact that there's not enough water in the ground to accommodate everyone who has a water right.

"He told us we're getting into areas of overusing the water, and it's straining the aquifers, and we need to give him the authority to change that and start asking people to give up appropriations," Gowans said. "That's a complicated issue because back before 1935 people acquired water rights that were never recorded, and we have to look at those."

The task force, which would consist five members of the Senate and eight members of the House, also would look at rights over in-stream flows and how to pay for $5.3 billion worth of water needs over the next 20 years.

Gov. Olene Walker, like her predecessor Mike Leavitt, wants to divert the sales tax money on water to education. Lawmakers have balked at that idea, and a legislative task force recommended no changes to how water is funded — a combination of sales tax and property taxes.

"There are so many things coming up and the potential for four or five bills dealing with water that maybe we need to take a look at the issues," Gowans said. "The task force on water funding said 'let's not do anything, let's study the whole picture.' "

Added Ure, "What we need are wise men, not politicians."


E-mail: donna@desnews.com