Sunday, January 27, 2008

The "Water Dogs" still tweaking HB51 Water Forfeiture Bill

Friday was a wild one for HB 51 Water Forfeiture Protection. as the "water dogs" aka. the water attorneys/engineers looked at proposed tweaks to the original HB51.

This bill is one of the League's highest priorities in the 2008 session. It is the product of relentless effort during the interim to accommodate water users throughout the state and to fix a gaping whole in the state water policy to allow public water suppliers to plan and hold water rights for its future demand. The Water Coalition typically met every other week during the summer, and its drafting contingent met in the alternating weeks. Its membership was open to virtually any interested party and included representatives of large and small cities, water districts, the CUP, the Provo River Water Users' Association, private water companies, the State Engineer's Office, the LDS church, legislators, the Farm Bureau, the Utah Homebuilder's Association and virtually every water lawyer in the state.

HB 51 is a Natural Resources Committee bill, having survived several hearings during the interim. However, as one sage politician once told me: "Nothing sharpens the mind like a Standing Committee Hearing."

We have known for quite some time now that the State Engineer's Office is not on board with HB 51, and particularly the exemption from forfeiture for holding water for the reasonable future demands of the public. As it turns out, late last week, a very large ecclesiastical "player" in our state expressed concern that HB 51 did not address some of its "concerns" with the current non-use application process. That entity's "concerns" were alleviated in a substitute bill that was drafted for Friday's committee hearing.

Sparks started to fly on Thursday, and reached a crescendo on Friday, just before the scheduled committee meeting. Representative Painter, who has been our champion in every respect, concluded that discretion is the better part of valor and that we should evaluate the substitute, incorporate good ideas contained in the substitute and reassemble next week with an even more inclusive bill. This strategy seemed to satisfy everyone but the State Engineer's Office.

A small drafting contingent met into the evening on Friday and will resume again on Monday morning. Stay tuned as a substitute bill is in the works. If you would like more information on the water issue, also plan on attending ULCT's policy meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, where Rep. Painter and ULCT's Jodi Hoffman will provide the most recent update on the status of the substitute that is being undertaken.

Until next time... Enjoy.