Wasatch Environmental Update for January 7, 2018
By John Worlock
“Reform and Threat to Utah’s Water Laws”
The Utah Legislature won’t convene its 2018 session for a few more weeks, but already Amy Joi O’Donoghue, environmental reporter for the Deseret News, has alerted us to some bills that promise significant water law reform. Water law being one of the foundations of environmental protections, that headline caught our attention.
So we read on and found that one of the two proposed laws, HB135, is sponsored by Representative Mike Noel, from Kane County. Noel is notorious, in our experience, for his espousal of causes that favor anti-environmental enterprises. So we took it upon ourselves to read the text of HB 135, entitled “EXTRATERRITORIAL JURISDICTION AMENDMENTS”.
Extraterratorial Jurisdiction! Well! That was scary! We have for many years counted on the Central Wasatch watershed that provides culinary water to hundreds of thousand residents in the Salt Lake Valley. That watershed has been protected from wanton development and degradation by Salt Lake City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. These words simply mean that Salt Lake City can control, for good reasons, some territory outside the city’s boundaries, and without doubt the watershed is out there, and extraterritorial.
Salt Lake City’s control has meant that the water has continued to flow, pure and clean, into the distribution system, needing only minor treatment. It has also meant that a variety of proposed developments, commercial and private, have been modified and even prohibited as a result of their threats to the watershed.
We wonder about Mike Noel’s interest in extraterritorial jurisdiction since it has no relation to any issues in his home county, As we read it, HB135 is a bill directly aimed at Salt Lake City.
What we see is a bill that takes from the city the authority to protect its watershed. Instead, it would be authorized to protect only its so-called waterworks, such as reservoirs, streams, canals, ditches, pipes and drains. Removed from legislation would be any language allowing the city to maintain or protect the actual watershed. It would be allowed to collect, purify and distribute any water that happened to flow into their reservoirs, but would be unable to protect the many thousands of acres of watershed from pollution and other harmful activities.
Let’s put an early end to HB135!