Legislature approves funding for Washington County’s regional reuse system, turf-removal program

ST. GEORGE — Among the 30 water-related bills and around $500 million in funding for water-related projects passed and approved by the Legislature this year are those that will aid Washington County in its conservation efforts.

The Utah House of Representatives is shown during the final night of the Utah Legislature at the Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 3, 2023 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

“This was another banner year when it comes to legislative efforts to conserve, optimize and develop Utah’s water resources,” Karry Rathje, communications and government affairs manager for the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said in a statement sent to St. George News.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have state leaders who understand the need to protect our water supply for current and future generations,” she said.

Among the legislation directly impacting Washington County is SB 277, which grants a $196 million loan from the state to the water district for its regional water reuse system project. This will be distributed to the water districts in $49 million increments over the next four years.

“The reuse system will allow us to treat our sewer water for outdoor irrigation use, extending our local water supply by approximately 15,000 acre-feet a year,” Rathje wrote.

Part of this funding will be applied to the desalination of the Virgin River.

According to the water district’s website, the La Verkin hot springs feed around 109,000 tons of salt annually into the Virgin River and ultimately into the Colorado River downstream. Currently, there is a joint effort between county, state and federal agencies to engineer ways to counter “one of the top three pollutants of the (Colorado) river.”

Another bill passed that provides additional funding for the county’s grass removal program is SB 118.

In this file photo, work is done at the Washington City Cemetery as a part of the Flip Blitz water conservation campaign, Washington City, Utah, May 19, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The program gives property owners a $2 rebate per square foot of grass they remove for the purpose of converting to more water-friendly landscaping. Since the program started in December, it has drawn 800 applicants, Rathje said.

The county started with a budget of $2 million – with half supplied by the Legislature last year – and will be receiving more thanks to new funding. This bill grants water districts $5 million in one-time funds and $3 million in continuing funding for their turf-removal programs.

“There is a tremendous demand for this program locally,” Rathje said. “The state money will augment the district’s $2 million annual budget, extending program funds for those desiring to participate in the program.”

The funding for the above projects and programs comes from the nearly $1 billion investment in water infrastructure legislators have approved in the last two years.

There are other bills that will affect the county and water district in other ways as well. SB 119, for example, mandates that water districts in counties with populations of 175,000 or more begin to count water use in a way comparable to other Western states.

Called the “consumptive use standard,” the new method of measuring water use is believed by some to help put Utah on a more level playing field when comparing its per capita water use with other Colorado River basin states.

Water meter | Stock photo, St. George News

Other water-related funding measures of note passed by the 2023 Legislature include:

  • $200 million toward the expansion of an existing program in the Department of Agriculture and Food, which provides matching grants for irrigation efficiency projects.
  • $25 million toward upgrading approximately 100 high-hazard dams in the state that do not meet current dam safety standards.
  • $7 million to the expansion of the Colorado River Authority IT and data management capabilities and expands a pilot program to promote agriculture water conservation in the Colorado River watershed.
  • $12 million in one-time funding and $5 million in continuing funding for cloud seeding by the Department of Natural Resources. Cloud seeding is touted as a weather modification technique that increases a cloud’s ability to produce rain or snow.
  • $18 million toward additional grant funds for the Secondary Water Meters program established during the 2022 General Session.

Several bills and funding measures related to the preservation and restoration of the Great Salt Lake also passed the Legislature this year. Due to the continuing drought, climate change and other factors, the iconic lake has shrunk in size in recent decades with one projection estimating it could dry up entirely in as little as five years.

Water Legislation Passed During the 2023 General Session:

  1. S.B. 34 Water Infrastructure Funding Study
  2. S.B. 53 Groundwater Use Amendments
  3. S.B. 76 Water Amendments
  4. S.B. 92 Special License Plate Designation
  5. S.B. 112 Aquatic Invasive Species Amendments
  6. S.B. 119 Per Capita Consumptive Use
  7. S.B. 144 Water Instream Flow Amendments
  8. S.B. 158 Water Exactions Amendments
  9. S.B. 118 Water Efficient Landscaping Incentives
  10. S.B. 191 Condominium and Community Association Amendments
  11. S.B. 236 Legislative Water Development Commission Amendments
  12. S.B. 251 Secondary Water Metering Requirements
  13. S.B. 277 Water Conservation and Augmentation Amendments
  14. H.B. 30 Wildlife Resources Code Recodification
  15. H.B. 31 Wildlife Resources Recodification Cross References
  16. H.B. 33 Water Related Liability Amendments
  17. H.B. 150 Emergency Water Shortages Amendments
  18. H.B. 207 Compact Commission Amendments
  19. H.B. 208 Criminal Trespass Amendments
  20. H.B. 217 School Energy and Water Reductions
  21. H.B. 299 Boating Amendments
  22. H.B. 307 Utah Water Ways
  23. H.B. 326 State Innovation Amendments
  24. H.B. 349 Water Reuse Projects Amendments
  25. H.B. 371 Working Farm and Ranch Protection Fund
  26. H.B. 450 Landscaping Requirements
  27. H.B. 488 Utah Lake Authority Amendments
  28. H.B. 491 Amendments Related to the Great Salt Lake
  29. H.B. 513 Great Salt Lake Amendments
  30. H.C.R. 7 Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Creation of the Great Salt Lake Sentinel Landscape

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2023 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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