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Temporary Water Rights Could Be Up For Sale Under Bipartisan Senate Bill

Photo of the Utah Senate gallery.
Lee Hale
Utah senators on Thursday unanimously approved a bill they say will prepare Utah's water system for state population growth.

In a move to prepare Utah’s water system for more explosive population grown, a bill to create a market system for temporarily buying and selling water rights is moving through the Utah State Senate. 

The Senate unanimously approved the bill, which is designed to prevent the permanent transfer of water from agricultural land to urban areas, on second reading Thursday. Introduced by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, it needs one more vote to move out of the Senate. 

Iwamoto argued on the Senate floor Thursday the bill is critical as Utah’s population is expected to nearly double in the next four decades. 

“Under our current laws, the primary means of providing water for this growth is through an outright sell of water rights from one user to another,” she said. “This often results in buy-and-dry transfers where water rights are permanently taken from agriculture land to supply urban and other demands.”

The system proposed under Iwamoto’s bill is called water banking. Several other western states, including Idaho and Washington, have water banking systems. 

“It allows us a mechanism to transfer water to the future and do it in a market way … and not insert government into places they shouldn’t be,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. 

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, and Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and is supported by the Utah Farm Bureau. 

“When Sen. Iwamoto was able to get the endorsement of the Utah Farm Bureau it really solidified this bill in my mind,” Okerlund said. “That means you’re bringing together probably the most difficult entity there is on water issues to be able to get behind something.”

If passed, the law would be automatically repealed at the end of 2030. Iwamoto said the 10 years would act as a trial run for the new system.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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