A Changing Landscape: the Utah Legislature Addresses Drought and Water Conservation

May 6, 2022

In response to the abnormally dry conditions statewide1, and armed with Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as well as surplus revenues partially attributable to previous federal intervention, the Utah Legislature made generational investments in water conservation, rights, and planning efforts during the 2021 First Special Session and 2022 General Session.

2021 First Special Session

In May of 2021, the Executive Appropriations Subcommittee set aside $280 million from the ARPA for water infrastructure. During the 2021 First Special Session, the Legislature appropriated $100 million of that set aside to the Department of Natural Resources, with the following intent language:

The Legislature intends that the Division of Finance may not allocate any of the $100 million for Water Projects to the Department of Natural Resources until after the department presents a detailed written prioritization plan for the new funding to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee by October 30, 2021 and to the Executive Appropriations Committee by November 30, 2021. Funds appropriated in this item may only be used in a manner that complies with the legal requirements and federal guidelines for use of funds appropriated under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The required prioritization plan, co-presented by the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture and Food, proposed:

—$50 million for metering secondary water systems (2022 General Session H.B. 5, Item 28),

—$25 million for drinking water infrastructure (H.B. 5, Items 13 and 47),

—$20 million for agriculture water optimization projects (H.B. 5, Item 9), and

—$5 million for infrastructure adjustments in the Great Salt Lake to address salinity levels and to dredge the marina (H.B. 5, Item 28).

2022 General Session

At their next opportunity, legislators passed policy bills and appropriations that encourage or enable more efficient and effective water use across multiple use types. In so doing, they increased their use of ARPA funds for water projects from the initial $280 million to $450 million.

Water related policy bills passed include:

—H.B. 33, Instream Water Flow Amendments: makes instream flow a beneficial use of water.

—H.B. 37, State Water Policy Amendments: establishes aquifer storage and recharge as part of the state water policy.

—H.B. 39, State Construction Code Amendments: increases water efficiency requirements for plumbing fixtures in construction code.

—H.B. 282, Water Wise Landscaping Amendments: prohibits municipalities from banning water-wise landscaping.

—S.B. 89, Water Amendments: requires retail water suppliers and conservancy districts to adopt regional water conservation goals established by the Division of Water Resources.

Appropriations for water from the 2022 General Session include:

—H.B. 121, Water Conservation Modifications: $5.15 million one-time from the ARPA for incentives to switch to water-wise landscaping and staffing. (H.B. 3, Item 293)

—H.B. 242, Secondary Water Metering Amendments: $200 million one-time from ARPA to provide grants for up to 70% of the cost of secondary metering and $545,000 ongoing General Fund to hire personnel for the grant program. (H.B. 3, Item 64)

—H.B. 410, Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement: $40.0 million one-time from the General Fund in for the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands to issue a grant for the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Program.2

—H.B. 429, Great Salt Lake Amendments: $5 million one-time General Fund for additional staff and resources to the Division of Water Resources to develop the Great Salt Lake Watershed Integrated Water Assessment. 2

—S.B. 110, Water as Part of General Plan: $300,000 one-time General Fund to provide municipalities with technical assistance to update their General Plans. 2

—Agricultural Water Optimization: $50 million one-time from the ARPA to fund projects that maintain or increase viable agriculture while minimizing negative impacts on water supply, water quality, and the environment. (S.B. 3, Item 98)

—ARPA Rural Drinking Water Projects: $25 million one-time from the ARPA to replace, upgrade, repair, or extend essential drinking water infrastructure across the state. (S.B. 3, Item 130)

—Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) Drinking Water and Water Quality: $5.27 million one-time General Fund for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and $3.28 million one-time General Fund for Water Quality State Revolving Fund to provide the required state match, allowing the state to receive an estimated $144 million in total from the IIJA for these two purposes. (S.B. 3, Items 130 and 131)

—Groundwater and Wetland Management Resources: $140,300 ongoing General Fund for staff to focus on mapping groundwater storage and quality and updating wetlands spatial data. (H.B. 2, Item 172)

—Southern Utah – Recycle/Reuse: $15 million one-time from ARPA for a competitive grant program for wastewater reuse projects with priority for projects that mitigate the impacts of drought on rural communities and the agricultural sector. (H.B. 3, Item 360)

—Utah Lake Preservation: $30 million one-time from the ARPA for a competitive grant program to fund water quality improvements in Utah Lake and its watershed. (S.B. 3, Item 105)

Through these investments and policy initiatives, legislators hope to help the citizens of Utah manage persistent drought conditions.

1. On April 21, 2022 Governor Cox issued Executive Order 2022-04, declaring a state of emergency in Utah due to drought. This order follows Executive Order 2021-03, which also established that the lack of rain fall, low snow pack, and dwindling reservoir storage warranted a drought emergency for the State in 2021. Both orders followed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designating 28 or more of Utah’s counties as disaster areas due to drought conditions. 
2. Bill carries its own appropriation.