If there's anything the recent legislative session taught Rep. Jeril Wilson, R-District 62, it's that proposed water bills sink a lot easier than they float.
"The sensitivity over water law is what I found surprising," Wilson said. "The attitude was that they (legislators) don't even want to consider changing water laws. They're sacred. They're untouchable."With the help of local attorney Jackson Howard, Wilson said, seven water-related bills were prepared for possible consideration during last month's legislative session. The Utah County Water Advisory Board settled on four of those bills, which Wilson agreed to sponsor.
Wilson said he introduced the most innocuous of the bills in order to test the legislative waters in the House.
"I started with the most harmless one," he said. "The thing got hammered. It didn't even pass out of committee."
Opposition came from the Farm Bureau Association, the Utah Water Users Association, Salt Lake City and the state engineer's office, Wilson said.
The bill, HB307, proposed to increase from 30 days to 180 days the time a municipality has to file a petition for judicial review of a water-related order by the state engineer.
Because many small municipal councils meet only once a month, the current 30-day period is an "unreasonable restraint," Wilson said.
Municipalities need more time to meet with their water engineer and legal counsel before drawing up petitions.
Because it takes years before some petitions are acted upon, Wilson said, 180 days isn't too much to ask.
Because of the negative response SB307 generated, Wilson decided not to introduce the other three bills - SB308, SB309 and SB310. The bills dealt with change in use of municipal water rights, loss of water rights through municipal non-use and dismissal of metropolitan water board members, respectively.
He said the less legislators have heard about a water bill, the more likely they are to oppose it - even if the bill is sound.
"That's the message here. Unless they know about it, they'll oppose it. Water is a highly emotional issue."
Because of the time restraints legislators are under during a legislative session, Wilson said, "Your ability to be thorough is very limited. You need to have done your homework and (arranged) your backup beforehand."
A Senate bill, SB77, to create a Utah Lake authority, which would have overseen study plans for harvesting the lake's economic potential, also never made it out of committee.
"There was lots of opposition because of misplaced fears that it would have affected Salt Lake City water rights," Wilson said. Sen. Lorin Pace, R-Salt Lake, said there was also concern that water quality in Salt Lake City might be affected.
However, he said, the bill likely will be assigned to the Senate's energy and natural resources committee for further study.
"Utah County is untrained in the field of confrontational politics,"
he told the county's water advisory board last week.
"We may have to get a little tougher to get this across. It's something that's been crying to be done for a long time.