Legislation aimed at keeping the state's share of Colorado River water in Utah will be introduced in the Legislature this session.
Sen. Fred W. Finlinson, R-Salt Lake, said the bill will try to tighten regulations governing the export of water from the state by giving the state water engineer more authority over such contracts.Finlinson said the primary emphasis will be on preventing changes in the point of diversion for existing water rights. The intent is to prevent interests in other states from purchasing existing water rights in Utah and then changing the point of diversion for those rights to points on the lower Colorado River for use in water-starved Southern California.
A preliminary draft includes provisions requiring out-of-state applicants to demonstrate that transferring the water would not be contrary to Utah's public welfare, that it would not create water shortages in Utah and that the applicant does not have access to alternative supplies in his or her own state. The applicant would also have to prove that the transfer is economically and technically feasible.
With Arizona now taking the bulk of its Colorado River allocation to fill the recently completed Central Arizona Project, water users in California and Nevada are expected to go after unused water rights that might be available in states higher up the Colorado such as Utah.
"We can't totally prevent water from leaving the state, but we want to control it where possible," Finlinson said. "There is not a lot of water in Utah, period, and that is why it becomes critical to the public interest to set up some kind of criteria to control exports."
Finlinson said it is hoped such criteria will discourage speculation in the Utah water market.
"We're trying to create a procedure to allow appropriate review to provide balance," Finlinson said. "We also want to look at speculation sales and also at the physical ability to accomplish the proposed transfers."
Finlinson said he does not see the proposed bill having any impact on issues facing Bear River development.