Utah Has $100 Million Of Federal Aid Money To Spend On Water, But It Needs 10 Times That
Utah’s Department of Natural Resources told a legislative committee Tuesday it wants to spend $100 million of federal coronavirus relief money on lowering agricultural water use, installing secondary water meters and improving drinking water infrastructure.
The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in March — but it’s not enough.
“You'll be surprised to know that the current needs exceed available resources, even with a very large infusion of cash,” said Brian Steed, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.
Utah needs about 10 times that much money — $1.2 billion — to upgrade and repair infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater, according to Kim Shelley, executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality.
“Unfortunately, infrastructure investments have not kept pace with rapidly growing communities,” Shelley said. “Our greatest needs are in our rural and disadvantaged communities. … That's something that will allow for communities to continue to be vibrant and attract some of the economic opportunities that they may not have had in the past.”
Shelley said those communities’ needs range from “upgrading and repairing infrastructure to converting septic tanks to new sewer.”
The Department of Natural Resources said it plans to spend $50 million of the federal relief money on installing secondary water meters — which measure how much non-potable water people use outside their home, like watering their lawn.
People who don’t have one “pay a flat fee at the beginning of the year or the beginning of the month and water to their heart's content,” Steed said.
The idea is that installing them would incentivize people to use less water.
The DNR also wants to spend $25 million on helping the agricultural industry start using more water efficient farming strategies. Another $25 million would go to drinking water infrastructure.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he wanted to make sure the money was being spent well.
“We're going to be deploying theoretically more money into water infrastructure over the next few years than we have my entire legislative career and then some,” Wilson said. “It seems like having some good way to measure the impact of that and return on our budget … would be helpful.”
Steed said they have been working on a way to measure the impact of money spent on water infrastructure and conservation.
The Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee didn’t vote on the suggested funding plan Tuesday, and the Department of Natural Resources said they’d make their pitch to another committee in October.