Two major water bills got the cold shoulder from the Legislature's Energy, Natural Resources and Agriculture Interim Committee.
The committee, on an 16-4 vote Tuesday, refused to endorse a bill that would initiate development of dam projects on the Bear River. The group followed that rejection with a narrow 8-7 vote refusing to endorse a proposed $50 million water bond bill.The votes do not kill the bills but simply mean they will go to the Legislature in January without the committee's endorsement. Having a favorable committee endorsement is generally seen as helpful for proposed legislation.
The vote on the Bear River bill was not so much a repudiation of the legislation as it was a reaction to the lack of review time for committee members. The draft of the bill was passed out in the middle of Tuesday's committee meeting, affording members almost no time to review the bill in detail.
Sen. Fred Finlinson, R-Salt Lake, the bill's sponsor, told the committee the bill was almost identical to a conceptual draft that the committee reviewed in November. He said the only changes were the incorporation of suggestions that came out of the November meeting.
Rep. Evan Olsen, R-Young Ward, Cache County, led most of the debate against the committee's endorsement. He said efforts were made to get draft copies of the bill late last week so water officials in Cache County could review the bill. He said this lack of review made it impractical for the committee to consider endorsing the bill.
Olsen's primary objection centered on wording that prevents those subscribing to the Bear River water from leasing or selling it outside of set conservancy district or county boundaries. Olsen said this prevents those who control the water, but who may not need it at the present time, from developing a potential revenue source. He said this especially affects areas where the water originates.
Sentiment on the committee seemed to favor Olsen's point as the members voted to support an Olsen amendment that would allow water sales outside the state if approved by the state water engineer. But ultimately, the committee refused to endorse the complete bill.
Finlinson said he will introduce the bill in the Senate in January.
The legislation seeks $10 million in seed money to begin developing plans for a series of reservoirs on the Bear River. Three dams would be specifically authorized along with a non-lapsing development fund that would be used for those projects and others developed in the future and approved by the Legislature.
The bill also allocates water rights to conservancy districts in Cache, Box Elder, Salt Lake, Weber and Davis counties.
The Bear River is seen as the next major water source for urban areas along the Wasatch Front once the Central Utah Project is completed.
There was virtually no discussion of a water bond bill at the committee meeting. The bill seeks $50 million with $20 million to go to the Division of Water Resources to increase funding in a revolving loan program that aids development of projects for cities, towns and irrigation companies. The remaining $30 million would go to the state Department of Health where half would be put into a loan fund for safe drinking water projects and half into a loan fund for waste water disposal projects.
Finlinson said that bill will also be introduced in the Senate but may be altered to conform with bonding recommendations that Gov. Norm Bangerter is expected to submit to the Legislature.