Water rights on lawmakers’ radar
December 28, 2007
State Rep. Christine Johnson, a Democrat who represents portions of the Snyderville Basin, is concerned about possibly 10 different bills related to immigration that lawmakers are expected to sponsor in the upcoming legislative general session.
"We should be aware of those," Johnson told members of the Summit County Commission in a meeting at Kimball Junction last week. "We need to be cognizant of that."
Johnson said a "small bill" she plans to sponsor would require ballot measures have names that are easier to identify by voters.
"We’re looking at a new way of differentiating issues so we don’t have six items numbered ‘One,’" she said.
According to Summit County Clerk Kent Jones, "it would be helpful and less confusing for the voters."
"It just depends how they phrase the question," Jones said about ballot initiatives and referendums. "[Voters] don’t know whether they are voting for it, or against it, in some cases."
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Wasatch County Councilman Kendell Crittenden agreed.
"You won’t have these groups coming in and wanting to sway [the election] their way depending on how you write the language," Crittenden said.
Other Summit and Wasatch County lawmakers who attended included Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden and Gordon Snow, a Republican who represents Wasatch County in the House of Representatives.
Christensen, who represents most of eastern Summit County, said issues related to energy and health care top his list of concerns.
At the Dec. 20 meeting, members of the Summit County Commission and Wasatch County Council told legislators their priorities for the 2007 general session, which begins Jan. 21 and ends March 5.
Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliott insisted that lawmakers continue to require the owners of second homes in the state to pay property tax based on 100 percent of the value of their home. Primary homeowners in Utah are only taxed for 55 percent of the value of their property.
"That would absolutely kill us if that got changed," Elliott said.
Meanwhile, Brown said he helped sponsor the law last year that could allow an Arizona developer to create a town called Aspen in Wasatch County.
But his change to the state’s incorporation laws has had unintended effects, Brown said, adding that loopholes in the bill must be closed.
Legislation related to water rights in Utah will also be filed at the general session, Brown said.
One possible bill would exempt cities from having to forfeit unused water rights.
Some city officials are unhappy with recent decisions from Utah State Engineer Jerry Olds, the state’s chief water rights enforcer.
"Jerry Olds is interpreting the law and enforcing the law," Brown said about a decision that ruffled some tail feathers when Olds took water from the city of Roosevelt.
Olds can take water when it isn’t used by government officials in accordance with the law, Brown explained.
"Olds says he intends to keep doing it," he added.
Legislation that would exempt municipalities from forfeiting water rights faces "an uphill battle," Brown said, adding that about 83 percent of the water in Utah still belongs to agriculture.
Summit County is entwined in a lawsuit with the private Summit Water Distribution Company, which alleges that government officials violated state antitrust laws in the formation of the county’s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District.
County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme asked if one of the lawmakers would file legislation to provide counties "protection from antitrust actions."
Van Tassell said he would be willing sponsor such a bill.