Members of the Bear River Task Force are throwing their support behind calls for a state water bond to finance water-development projects.
Sen. John Holmgren, R-Box Elder, task force co-chairman, said that in addition to dam projects being considered for the Bear River, there is great need for money to finance more localized water projects.The Utah Water Resources Board told applicants last week that its loan fund is virtually exhausted and authorized projects would have to wait for money to become available through loan repayments before any more money is released.
"I think we (the state) have to make a decision about where we want to go (on water development)," Holmgren told the task force.
Larry Anderson, director of the Division of Water Resources, said his agency has a $50 million wish list of large projects from various cities, towns and water cooperatives on the table for consideration.
"There are seven to eight projects that are larger than we generally deal with," Anderson said. "There's simply no money to fund them. The past two months we have received 16 funding applications. In a typical year we receive about 25 applications."
Ken Alkema, director of the Division of Environmental Health, said a similar situation exists for groups seeking safe drinking water projects and water-related waste-disposal projects such as sewers. "We've had the greatest number of applications that I have seen in my experience."
Alkema said many of the requests deal with basic system infrastructures and there is simply no money to meet funding needs.
Both Alkema and Anderson believe the number of requests are directly related to the effects of Utah's four-year drought.
Sen. Fred Finlinson, R-Salt Lake, said the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee is expected to take testimony concerning issuing a water bond. The primary purpose is to provide more money to finance needed projects. He expects the committee to give its support to the idea. He said the committee would also have to decide the size of the water bond, which would be separate from the state's annual building-bond effort.
Wayne Winegar, a member of the Water Resources Board, said providing project funds may be all that keeps some towns from literally shriveling up and disappearing.
Ivan Flint, manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said he believes the current drought is worse than the one experienced between 1974 and 1976 and calls for more drastic action. Flint was quick to point out that one major difference between water projects and building projects is that water projects generate money to repay the bonds rather than relying on tax assessments to retire the debts.