Easing requirements for forming water conservancy districts may be the only way Iron County can resolve its water problems says state Sen. Dixie L. Leavitt, R-Cedar City.
But there is concern that easing requirements will create problems elsewhere in the state. This is especially true in Cache County where controversy is already swirling around efforts to form a conservancy district in conjunction with plans to develop dams along the Bear River.The senator has prefiled SB 7, a measure intended to ease state requirements for forming water conservancy districts for a two-year period.
Leavitt said absentee landownership has been a major stumbling block to an eight-year effort to form a countywide conservancy district, a stumbling block that can only be removed by changing existing legal requirements.
Opponents to the Cache County conservancy district have filed suit to stop formation. Opponents have been critical of the present law, which requires more signatures on petitions to block a district than it does to form a district. A law that would make it even easier to form a district is likely to generate even stronger controversy and resentment.
"I guess that's the difference between what end of the state you live in," said Rep. Evan L. Olsen, R-Young Ward, who has been active on the Bear River Task Force and the Legislature's Energy, Natural Resources and Agriculture Interim Committee.
"Just two or three years ago we (the Legislature) went in and tried to tighten the law," Olsen said. "I think the debate on this issue is going to get very interesting."
Sen. Fred W. Finlinson, R-Salt Lake, who is expected to sponsor legislation to initiate a Bear River development fund, said he sympathizes with the problems in Iron County but won't support changes that could "mess up" other areas of the state.
"I think Dixie (Leavitt) has a legitimate issue that we need to deal with," Finlinson said. "But one shouldn't have an impact on the other. The test for the bill will be whether it can solve their problem without affecting the rest of the state in terms of water districts."
The heart of the problem for Iron County is a provision requiring 20 percent of the property owners in unincorporated areas to sign in favor of the district. But, only those with property valued in excess of $10,000 are allowed to sign.
"We have about 17,000 parcels in the unincorporated area which means we need 3,400 signatures," Leavitt said. "But only about 1,000 of the parcels are worth $10,000 which makes it impossible for us to meet this requirement."
Adding to the problem is too many absentee landowners.
To solve this, the proposed bill would eliminate the $10,000 property valuation provision and allow county officials to contact absentee owners by certified mail. Only those responding with written opposition would count against the district. Failure to respond would count as a petition signature favoring the district's formation.