February 05, 2024

2024 Legislative Updates

Dear FRIENDS,

As we enter the final week of the 2024 Utah Legislative Session, some relevant bills have been passed and some are stalled. These bills are primarily filling gaps in existing legislation. Our priorities include efforts to advance water conservation, measurement, and shepherding. Please do your part to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake ecosystem by contacting your representatives regarding legislation relevant to the health of Great Salt Lake.

 

Priority Bills:

To receive email notifications about the status of these and any other bills during this session, sign up for the Legislature's tracking service.

H.B. 62 Utah Water Ways Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Owens and Sen. Sandall, directs coordination between the nonprofit statewide partnership, Utah Water Ways, and the State Board of Education to expand education about Utah's water systems. Coordination with Utah Water Ways to enhance public education is an action identified in the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan. As a provider of environmental education programming at Great Salt Lake, FRIENDS values the power of education to shape the next generation of environmental stewards.  

We support expanded education about Utah's water systems in the K-12 public education system.

Status as of 2/27: Passed by House; Scheduled for third reading in Senate

 

H.B. 401 Water Usage Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Owens, is an amended version of H.B. 538, which passed the House in the 2023 Legislative Session but failed in the Senate. It prohibits the watering of lawn or turf from October 1 to April 1 in counties in the Great Salt Lake watershed. It does not apply to irrigation of trees, shrubs, gardens, newly established turf, or agriculture. Violating the prohibitions would be a civil infraction with a fine of at least $50 for the first violation and $100 for additional violations in the same year. The bill directs the Utah Division of Water Resources to report an estimate of water saved by this restriction. According to the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan, 60% of Utah's residential water use goes toward outdoor irrigation. The Plan identifies municipal water conservation and quantification of water saved as actions to increase inflows committed to Great Salt Lake.

We support this effort to reduce outdoor irrigation in communities throughout the Great Salt Lake basin.

Status as of 2/27: Assigned to House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee

 

H.B. 448 State Water Program Reporting Requirements, sponsored by Rep. Ward, requires the Utah Division of Water Resources to monitor and report on the state's water optimization efforts.

We support improved coordination and monitoring of optimization programs, a priority identified in the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan.

Status as of 2/27: Passed by House; Assigned to Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee

 

H.B. 453 Great Salt Lake Revisions, sponsored by Rep. Snider and Sen. Sandall, expands on 2023's H.B. 513 to consolidate and more clearly define the management responsibilities of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fires & State Lands (DFFSL) with regard to the Lake. It would allow DFFSL, under certain circumstances, to acquire property and water rights. It would require mineral extraction operators to enter into a cooperative agreement, and it would give preference to non-consumptive technology for lithium extraction. Most importantly, H.B. 453 requires the State Engineer to establish a distribution management plan, which will function as a water budget for the Lake. This plan will set limits on what the mineral extraction companies can take from the Lake during low water years, and it will protect water conserved upstream for the benefit of the Lake from being diverted into evaporation ponds.

We support this effort to modernize oversight of mineral extraction on Great Salt Lake. Listen to our comment in support of H.B. 453 here, and find more background about mineral extraction regulations here.

Status as of 2/27: Passed by House; Scheduled for second reading in Senate

 

H.B. 427 Water Revisions, sponsored by Rep. King, directs the Utah Division of Water Resources and the Division of Water Rights to jointly study the creation of a water database and center.

We support the exploration of tools that can improve water measurement, management, and coordination across state agencies.

Status as of 2/27: Passed by House; Assigned to Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee

 

H.J.R. 27 Joint Resolution Encouraging Water-efficient Landscaping Ordinances for New Construction, sponsored by Rep. Owens and Sen. McKell, recognizes the importance of water to the state; supports water-efficient landscaping as a key strategy for meeting water optimization goals; and recommends that municipalities and counties adopt water use elements in general plans as well as water-efficient landscaping ordinances for new construction.

We support the state's encouragement of water conservation by municipalities.

Status as of 2/27: Passed by House; Scheduled for second reading in Senate

 

S.B. 118 Water Efficiency Amendments, sponsored by Sen. McKell and Rep. Musselman, appropriates $1 million for the Utah Division of Water Resources, which will be granted to water districts for programs incentivizing the use of water-efficient landscaping in new residential development in the Great Salt Lake Basin.

We support incentives for water-efficient landscaping as Utah continues to grow.

Status as of 2/27: Passed by Senate; Recommended by House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee

 

S.B. 196 Great Salt Lake Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Blouin, directs the Great Salt Lake Commissioner to create and report on a plan to maximize the Lake's inflows in wet water years. The Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan recognizes the need to plan for streamflow variability and capitalize on wet years to reach target lake levels. 

We support the development of a plan to guide action and bolster Lake levels during and following above average water years.

Status as of 2/27: Circled on third reading in Senate

 

Passed Bills:

H.B. 11 Water Efficient Landscaping Requirements, sponsored by Rep. Owens and Sen. Winterton, originally limited installation of nonfunctional turf for new government facilities in the Great Salt Lake Basin. The bill was amended to instead restrict the use of overhead spray irrigation at new government facilities.

Status as of 2/22: Amended bill passed by House and Senate

 

H.B. 61 Water Measuring and Accounting Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Albrecht and Sen. McKell "modifies the state water policy to allow for the use of telemetry in water data collection and permits the State Engineer to make rules governing telemetry and water distribution accounting. The bill also removes outdated language regarding rulemaking authority on preferences of water rights" (Smith Hartvigsen, PLLC).

Expanding the use of telemetry and distribution accounting for improved water measurement and shepherding are priorities identified by the Great Salt Lake Strike Team Report and the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan.

We support this recognition of telemetry and distribution accounting within state water policy.

Status as of 2/9: Passed by House and Senate

 

S.B. 18 Water Modifications, sponsored by Sen. Sandall and Rep. Snider, refines 2023's S.B. 277 and addresses water saved through agricultural water optimization projects. S.B. 18 moves rulemaking power to the state engineer, "adding language clarifying the definition of saved water and the administrative procedures to secure its separate use and protect it from forfeiture. It also clarifies that saved water cannot increase the depletion of the underlying water right" (Smith Hartvigsen, PLLC).

Protections for saved water are critical for participants in agricultural optimization programs and shepherding saved water to Great Salt Lake, as recognized by the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan. We support these protections for saved water.

Status as of 2/14: Passed by Senate and House

 

S.B. 57 Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act, sponsored by Sen. Sandall and Rep. Ivory, allows the Legislature, by concurrent resolution, to prohibit the enforcement of a federal directive within the state if the Legislature determines the federal directive violates the principles of state sovereignty. The bill describes how a federal directive may violate the principles of state sovereignty and requires the Legislature to consult with the attorney general regarding the potential impact of a concurrent resolution on litigation.

We oppose S.B. 57's potential to impact agencies within the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and to undermine delegated federal programs such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

Status as of 1/31: Signed into law by Governer Cox

 

S.B. 77 Water Rights Restricted Account Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Sandall and Rep. Snider, "modifies the purposes for which money in the Water Rights Restricted Account may be used. The bill adds that the Division of Water Rights may use the Account to pay for installing, operating, and maintaining water measurement infrastructure and for sharing in the costs of installing stream gauges (with the U.S. Geological Survey)" (Smith Hartvigsen, PLLC).

Installation of water measurement systems is a priority identified in the Great Salt Lake Commissioner's Strategic Plan.

We support this expanded funding pathway for water measurement infrastructure.

Status as of 2/7: Passed by Senate and House

 

How You Can Help:  

Contacting your representatives during the legislative session is an important responsibility and really does make a difference. Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with this legislation and reach out with any questions you might have, then contact your representatives and let them know that you support initiatives to preserve and protect Great Salt Lake. 

Find Your Representatives

Published in News and Events

Dear FRIENDS,

Over the past five years, Great Salt Lake’s decline has triggered a corresponding increase in action by the Utah State Legislature. As we enter what will hopefully be another year of meaningful progress, let’s take a look back at what’s been done and look ahead to what we could expect from this year’s session.

 

 

2019

H.C.R. 10 Concurrent Resolution to Address Declining Water Levels of the Great Salt Lake
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Hawkes
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

Before H.C.R. 10, only a trickle of water legislation had made its way into policy, usually with Great Salt Lake as a footnote. This resolution shifted our state’s fundamental perception of the Lake as being vital to the state’s economic, ecological, and environmental health. The resolution urged the Utah Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality to act quickly to prevent irreversible economic and ecological degradation caused by declining lake levels. In December 2020, the Great Salt Lake Resolution (HCR-10) Steering Group issued a report titled Recommendations to Ensure Adequate Water Flows to Great Salt Lake and Its Wetlands. This report helped spur timely legislative initiatives to support effective responses to the Lake’s decline. The important foundation laid by H.C.R. 10 has been present in most water legislation passed over the last five years. 

 

2020

S.B. 26 Water Banking Amendments
Bill Sponsor: Sen. Iwamoto
Floor Sponsor: Rep. Hawkes

An experimental shift in “Use-it or Lose-it” water law, this bill authorized a 10-year pilot program permitting water rights holders to voluntarily and temporarily lease their water rights, including for environmental purposes such as instream flows and Great Salt Lake. This bill established the Water Banking Act and was paired with a one-time appropriation of $400,000 along with a matching federal SmartWATER grant to implement and study water banking in the state. 

 

2022

H.B. 33 Instream Water Flow Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Ferry
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

A more dynamic shift in “Use-it or Lose-it” water law, this bill granted certain state agencies the power to recognize the “beneficial use” of an instream flow on sovereign lands, including Great Salt Lake. The statute provided that water leased, purchased or donated for instream flow in Great Salt Lake and its tributaries can be deemed by the Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands (DFFSL) as being put to “beneficial use” under Utah water law.  As a result, water that was once considered “wasted” is now protected under the law.  

 

H.B. 429 Great Salt Lake Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Miles
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

This bill and its $5M appropriation directed the Division of Water Resources to conduct an Integrated Water Assessment in the Great Salt Lake Watershed. The work would include an analysis of the integration of surface and groundwater, a forecast of water availability for all water uses (i.e., people and the environment), and a water budget for Great Salt Lake and its associated wetlands. The water budget would address water flows needed to maintain different lake levels with consideration of water quality, ecological needs, economic benefits, and public health benefits. With the addition of a WaterSMART grant from the Bureau of Reclamation to conduct a Great Salt Lake Basin Study, these two studies were combined to develop the Great Salt Lake Basin Integrated Plan (GSLBIP). A draft Work Plan for GSLBIP was released in Fall 2023. The Final Action Plan is to be completed by November 2026 and presented to the legislature. The purpose of GSLBIP is to “Ensure a resilient water supply for the Lake and all water uses, including people and the environment throughout the watershed.” 

 

H.B. 410 Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Wilson
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Vickers

This bill authorized $40 million to establish the Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust (GSLWET) to enhance water quantity and water quality for Great Salt Lake and its wetlands. The Trust provides legal tools and financial resources necessary to purchase, lease, and accept donated water rights for the Lake. National Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy worked together to establish the framework of the Trust, and create its Advisory Board. The GSLWET will soon evolve into its own 501(c)(3). That work is nearly completed and water partnerships are being forged. 

 

H.B. 157 Sovereign Lands Revenue Amendments
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Hawkes
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Stevenson

This bill established the Sovereign Lands Management Account which will keep revenue generated from resource development on State Sovereign Lands within DFFSL. A separate Great Salt Lake Account was also created wherein the royalties from Great Salt Lake resource development, such as mineral extraction and brine shrimp harvest, would be held by DFFSL and used for the specific benefit of Great Salt Lake. A collective $7,000,000 initial appropriation was made to establish the accounts. 

 

H.B. 242 Secondary Water Metering Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Peterson
Floor Sponsor: Sen. McKell

This bill requires metering of all existing secondary water (non-culinary irrigation water) connections before 2030 by progressively ramping up requirements by county. This policy change expanded on the groundwork of 2019’s S.B. 52, and addressed scope, definitions, and exemptions in 2020’s S.B. 51

 

2023

H.B. 491 Amendments Related to The Great Salt Lake 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Schultz
Floor Sponsor: Sen. Sandall

This bill enacted the Great Salt Lake Commissioner Act, which designates a Great Salt Lake Commissioner to oversee the long-term health of Great Salt Lake. The Commissioner will represent Great Salt Lake on the Board of Water Resources. The bill also provides funding for the Commissioner's office, staff, and efforts to manage the Lake's water levels. Finally, it provided office space and support to the Commissioner within the Department of Natural Resources.

In May, 2023, Governor Cox appointed Dr. Brian Steed as the Great Salt Lake Commissioner, who recently hired Tim Davis as Deputy Commissioner. Commissioner Steed also serves as the Executive Director of Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air at Utah State University and is Co-chair of the Great Salt Lake Strike Team. Dr. Steed had previously served as the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, and as Deputy Director of Policy and Programs of the Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C. 

Commissioner Steed has a long track record of advocating for Great Salt Lake and getting things done, He knows the people, the politics, and the Lake. We are pleased to have him in this position and look forward to working in support of his Great Salt Lake Strategic Plan.

H.B. 513 Great Salt Lake Amendments 
Bill Sponsor: Rep. Snider
Floor Sponsor: Sen. McKell

This bill imposed new, stronger requirements for mineral extraction regulations, including lithium extraction, in Great Salt Lake. DFFSL and the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) are now drafting new rules to implement those requirements, which are expected to be finalized and open for public comment in early 2024. FRIENDS has been actively engaging in the rulemaking process with DFFSL and DWQ, providing input to ensure the agencies’ rules are rigorous enough to prevent negative impacts on the Lake’s chemistry and biota from these industries.

 

Looking Ahead

An outlook on the Utah 2024 General Legislative Session by Lynn de Freitas, FRIENDS Executive Director

 

Although anything is possible, I don’t expect to see any revolutionary Great Salt Lake bills coming out of the 2024 legislative session. For the most part, I think that the bills we do see will be either refinements of previous bills, or legislative mandates directed at determining how well existing programs have performed and how much additional water has actually made it to the Lake. Unfortunately, while it’s reasonable to want to know whether the money the Legislature has already invested in the Lake has been well spent, we’re simply too early in the process to be able to say for sure one way or the other. One of the big impediments to getting this information has been the lack of metering equipment in key locations – something that’s still in the process of being installed. I’m afraid we’re just going to have to be patient for the time being.

There are a few bills on the horizon that we’re keeping our eye on. Representative Casey Snider has drafted an ambitious bill (H.B. 280) that would require a statewide system of planning and funding for water infrastructure projects that’s worth watching. There are also bills drafted that would add reporting requirements for the Great Salt Lake Commissioner; would amend how water is measured and accounted for (H.B. 61 & H.B. 242); would add requirements for water-efficient landscaping (H.B. 11); and, would give legal protections for water “saved” through agricultural optimization and other efficiencies (S.B. 18).  All of these bills, while important, are largely filling in the gaps in legislation from previous sessions.

Rest assured that FRIENDS’ staff will be closely tracking the session as it progresses and will be sending out updates and action alerts as needed. In the meantime, fingers and toes crossed for lots of snow.

Published in News and Events