SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s booming population growth and rapid economic development means the need for more water, a higher level of conservation and wise development of water supplies, which are not infinite.
With that in the backdrop, the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday passed HCR22, which makes clear to neighboring states and policymakers that Utah will someday develop its unused portion of the Colorado River.
The Colorado River, termed the hardest working river in the West, serves 40 million people in the Southwest, including a large population in Utah through a diversion system.
Utah has not fully developed its full 23% allocation of the river, with much of that unused water flowing downstream to lower basin states.
Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane — who lives in southern Utah where the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline would take a portion of the unused allocation — said it is important Utah send a message to its neighbors that the resource will be developed.
“There are other states that would like to have our water. They are looking for chinks in the armor. The intention of this is to make clear to the other states that we do intend to use our water,” Last said. Overall, Utah has approximately 400,000 acre feet in the Colorado River use; the pipeline would use up to just over 86,000 acre feet.
The resolution passed on a 57-13 vote because the Lake Powell Pipeline — and development of the Colorado River in light of drought and a changing climate — has stoked opposition by some groups that assert it’s a failed proposal that will drain an already struggling river.
2020 Utah Legislative Session
Last’s measure urges development of the water in the most expeditious fashion, and Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, questioned what those parameters might be.
“As soon as we can effectively use it,” Last told him.
Briscoe added that conservation practices should have been emphasized more in the resolution and addressed higher in the language of the measure.
But Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara — another lawmaker who lives in the Utah region where the pipeline would deliver water — said the resolution is a critical message that merits support.
“It is important as a state that we indicate our intent to 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 resolution is now awaiting action in the Senate.