Adams’ bill passes, redirects funds towards Lake Powell Pipeline, other water, education projects

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ST. GEORGE — Water has always been a valuable commodity in Utah yet with a booming population and increased visitation, that value is likely to increase. Legislators are keying in on ways to allocate more funding for water projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Pipeline.

The Infrastructure Funding Amendments, Senate Bill 80, passed during the general session that concluded Thursday. It aims to allocate funding for some of those future endeavors by diverting sales tax revenues originally slated for transportation projects to other education, roads and water projects.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who sponsored the bill, said there are three areas of infrastructure that are vital to Utah: education, roads and water. The Infrastructure Funding Amendments sets aside money primarily for water projects, something that should have been done long ago, he said.

“For whatever reason, in the northern part of Utah, people have ignored water. In Southern Utah … because of your water needs down there you’ve been more focused on it,” Adams said. “If we get stuck on the freeway, everybody gets frustrated if they’re stuck in traffic, but when you can’t get a drink of water, I think the frustration’s going to be pretty high.”

The original wording of the bill would have diverted 1/16 of 1 percent of transportation funds to water projects, but the Utah House amended the legislation to reach that level more slowly, over a ‘phase-in’ period, Adams said. Additionally, SB 80 was blended with House Bill 296, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville. By combining these two bills, SB 80 will, over six years, bring in over $172 million for education funding, he said, without compromising transportation projects.

“It’s a win for water … it’s a win for education,” Adams said.

Not everyone is in favor of the bill, however. Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council called the bill a Trojan horse. The Utah Rivers Council wrote to many of the institutions whose projects were listed on the bill and found that many of the projects were either completed or did not require state funding.

Fifty-two different entities on the list wrote back and said ‘the project you’re talking about has already been funded … we don’t need state funding for this,’” Frankel said.

Additionally, there were multiple projects on the list that were in the process of being built, but had already been funded. Many of the entities were water suppliers who have their own revenue sources, such as property taxes. Those groups claim they were asked by the Utah Division of Water Resources only to supply a list of projects that were under construction, Frankel said.

Lisa Rutherford, former board member of Conserve Southwest Utah (formerly Citizens for Dixie’s Future) said Utah should be focused on utilizing locally-available water resources instead of building expensive projects for new sources of water, such as the Lake Powell Pipeline.

Rutherford said:

To me that is where our focus should be. There’s a lot of existing infrastructure that needs funding support. That’s why I have trouble with SB 80 … listing Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River ahead of existing infrastructure. That to me is getting the cart before the horse.

Ron Thompson, general manager for the Washington County Water Conservancy District said that while SB 80 provides “seed money” for the Lake Powell Pipeline and other water projects, it is only a small part of what is a very complex infrastructure puzzle.

“This is only one small component of all of these projects, they’ve still got a lot of planning … but what it does allow — which is prudent planning for the Legislature — is to start setting aside money for these critical water infrastructure projects,” Thompson said.

Joshua Palmer, public information officer for the Utah Division of Water Resources, said the projected doubling of Utah’s population by 2060 presents many challenges to the state, and one of the most important of those obstacles will be water.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge on water resources,” Palmer said. “There are people within the Legislature who are looking at a lot of different ways to address that.”

Both Thompson and Adams point to the projected growth of Utah as the main impetus behind the Infrastructure Funding Amendments bill.

“You can’t look at doubling our population by 2060 in the state and not have a plan,” Thompson said.

“We now have 3 million people, when we have 6 million we’ve got to maintain our infrastructure,” Adams said.

“We’re really happy with the attention water has gotten this legislative session, that we have a robust discussion” Palmer said. “We’re seeing signs that it’s not just a silver-bullet solution. We’re looking at more resources to increase conservation, which is essential. We’re seeing people that recognize that the … future development of water resources can potentially be part of the solution as well.”

The bill will now be enrolled and sent to Gov. Gary Herbert for executive action.

Notes on the legislative process

 The Senate passed the Infrastructure Funding Amendments bill 19-10 on Feb. 12 and the House passed bill with revisions 48-18 with one not voting on March 9; Senate concurred with the revised bill Thursday and the bill was forwarded for enrolling.

From Southern Utah, Sens. Hinkins, Okerlund, Urquhart and Vickers all voted in favor of the bill. Reps. Ipson, Last, Nelson, Noel, Snow, Stanard and Westwood also voted in favor of the bill. 

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