ST. GEORGE — The Colorado River is often referred to as the hardest working river in the West, as it supplies water to 40 million people across the southwest, including Utah. A compact made in the last century allots a percentage of water to Utah and six other states, and a resolution passing through the Utah Legislature reaffirms the state’s intent to develop its portion of the Colorado River.
Water has become an increasing concern for Utah, one of the driest states in the nation, as the population continues to grow. In southwest Utah, the Colorado River is a key component of the Lake Powell Pipeline project.
The Colorado River Compact allocates 23% of the Colorado River, or about 1.4 million acre-feet of water, to Utah. So far, the state has developed 1 million acre-feet, with 400,000 acre-feet left to be developed, and a resolution in the 2020 Legislature, designed HCR 22 and authored by Hurricane Rep. Brad Last, states Utah’s intent to develop the rest of that water supply.
“This resolution is nothing more than a statement of what we intend to do with the water — that we actually intend to use our allocation and develop it for the beneficial use of the citizens of Utah,” Last said Tuesday on the House floor.
“There are other states that would like to have our water. They are looking for chinks in the armor,” he added. “The intention of this is to make clear to the other states that we do intend to use our water.”
The resolution also calls for Utah’s part of the Colorado River to be developed “as soon as we can effectively use it,” Last said.
The resolution encourages state and water users to continue exploring and implementing practices that promote water efficiency and water conversation. It also encourages the state to work with federal agencies and other states when it comes to enacting water use reducing drought measures should the need arise.
Last said that northern Utah, particularly the Wasatch Front, benefits from water that originates from the Colorado River.
While the resolution also notes that Utah is aware that climate change will likely have an impact on the Colorado River, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, asked if Last had an idea of what whose impacts could be.
Last said he wasn’t certain what the impacts would look like, adding he attended a presentation held by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that touted the readability of the Colorado River.
Last year, a similar presentation was held at the Washington County Water Conservancy District where water officials claimed data showed the river could still be counted on to deliver needed water during dry seasons.
Opponents of the Lake Powell Pipeline have long said the Colorado River is already overused and won’t be a reliable source of water as climate change continues. It is one of the many arguments they reference as to why they believe the pipeline project is a bad idea.
Addressing conservation measures mentioned in the resolution, Briscoe said he would have liked more emphasis put on that language by seeing it placed before the intent to further develop the Colorado River.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, voiced his support for the resolution and said it is important to make Utah’s intent for its remaining allocation of the Colorado River clear to others.
“It’s important that, as a state, that we indicate our intent preserve our allocation,” Snow said. “I can’t begin to evaluate the monetary value of our water right in the Colorado. It is invaluable and will become more so in the future.”
The House passed the resolution Tuesday in a 57-13 vote, with all Southern Utah representatives voting in favor, and it has been sent for consideration to the Senate, where it is being sponsored by Southern Utah Sen. Don Ipson.
For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.
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