SALT LAKE CITY — While many lawmakers agree something needs to be done to address the thorny issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction and water resource management, few can agree on a path to get there.
Instead, a bill excluding first-class cities such as Salt Lake City and Sandy to exercise wide watershed management beyond their boundaries — such as the Wasatch Canyons — received no votes and instead was deferred for further study.
The move to pass on HB135 by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, came even as he put in a 2 ½-year delay for its implementation for those at the table to take an even bigger dive into the issue.
"This is not taking the authority away from local authorities. It is actually given back to them," Noel said.
The measure retained water source protection capabilities for 300 feet on either side of a drinking water source such as a stream and for 15 miles from the point of diversion. Noel asserted that provides enough protection, given the amount of water quality laws on the books.
Critics such as Laura Briefer, director of the Salt Lake City's Division of Public Utilities, said the diminished protection would be inadequate to ensure water resource protection in the canyons, a sentiment echoed by a spokesman from Alta.
"This does not harm the watershed in the canyons," Noel insisted. "There is some question about how Salt Lake City manages extraterritorial jurisdiction."
Noel said Salt Lake City, with its protectionist watershed ordinance, should not be allowed to pick winners and losers about who gets water and who doesn't in the canyon.
But Steve Clyde, a water attorney who sits on the Executive Water Task Force, said the complexity of Noel's bill and other companion pieces of legislation speak to the need for additional vetting.
"They all need to be studied and talked about," Clyde said. "In reality, these (issues) transcend Salt Lake City.
Noel, however, pointed to the irony of Salt Lake City's opposition to having control wrested from it in a proposed Inland Port Authority bill affecting the northwest quadrant while making water decisions impacting households outside its boundaries, where residents don't have a voice.
Members of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee also took no action on a "water transparency" bill sponsored by Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan.
Coleman's HB124 had the support of Marie Owens, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water, and Kent Jones, the state engineer over water rights.
Both said providing more information would support the state's efforts to better quantify state water resources.
Specifically, the measure would have required cities of the first class to make available to the state engineer's office their service area, the amount of water they hold in water rights and cost of delivery.
Critics say both measures are targeting Salt Lake City and its longstanding watershed protections, attacking it for interference in property rights.Comment on this story
A resolution by Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, HJR15, sought to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters dealing with extraterritorial jurisdiction. It, too, was referred for further study in action last week.
Briefer said the city's watershed protection management has been effective for decades, and warned the state would not want to return to a time when City Creek Canyon had to be closed because it was so badly polluted.
Noel argued that his bill needs to go to the Senate floor for full debate to move the discussion forward.
"If we don't put pressure on Salt Lake City, nothing will happen," he said.