There was a long list of water-related bills that were passed during the 2024 session of the Utah Legislature. Below are bills summaries (drafted by the water attorneys at Smith Hartvigsen) about these bills that passed.

HB 11 (2nd Substitute) – Water Efficient Landscaping
Requirements
Rep. Doug Owens

House Bill 11 (2nd Substitute) mandates that certain
government entities in the Great Salt Lake Basin will not use overhead spray
irrigation of a new construction or reconstruction’s landscaped area after May
1, 2024. Despite this restriction, this bill does not restrict overhead spray
irrigation on the following land uses: sports fields, parks, amphitheaters,
golf courses (including driving ranges and putting greens), cemeteries, and
social gathering areas. This bill does not authorize a municipality or county
to impose landscaping requirements on school district entities. The purpose of
this bill is to send the message that the government is committed to conserving
water that can then be used for the Great Salt Lake. This bill is the product
of the Legislative Water Development Commission examining and retooling the
2023 Legislative Session’s failed HB 272 (Water Efficient Landscaping
Amendments), as it was not examined by the Commission prior to the 2023
Legislative Session.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 42 – Water Rights Publication Amendments
Rep. Joel K. Briscoe

House Bill 42 amends Utah Code section 73-3-6, which
addresses the State Engineer’s publication of notice of application to
appropriate or change application. The bill allows the State Engineer to
confirm a newspaper’s publication of a notice of application through electronic
means.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 57- Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council Amendments
Rep. Walt Brooks

House Bill 57 dissolves the Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory
Council by repealing the entirety of Title 63C, Chapter 12 of the Utah Code.
The Council was originally established by the legislature in 2009, primarily to
deal with the Snake Valley water right filings made by the Southern Nevada
Water Authority. Because the SNWA water right filings are now a moot issue, the
Council is no longer needed. The bill also removes references to the Council
from other sections in the Code. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 61 – Water Measuring and Accounting Amendments
Rep. Carl R. Albrecht

House Bill 61 amends Utah Code sections 73-1-21 and 73-2-1.
Section 73-1-21 addresses Utah’s overall water policy and section 73-2-1
outlines the State Engineer’s powers and duties and the qualifications for
those duties. The bill 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. Finally, the bill also
removes outdated language regarding rulemaking authority on preferences of
water rights under Section 73-3-21.5, which was repealed in 2023.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 62 (1st Substitute) – Utah Water Ways Amendments
Rep. Doug Owens

House Bill 62 (1st Substitute) amends Utah Code section
79-2-408 to add an additional method for educating the public about water
issues. Specifically, the bill permits Utah Water Ways to coordinate with the
State Board of Education to implement resources and development opportunities
to select grades in kindergarten through grade twelve of the public school
system. These education opportunities may not include information on
human-caused climate change. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 206 – Columbia Interstate Compact Amendments
Rep. Thomas W. Peterson

House Bill 206 withdraws Utah’s ratification of the Columbia
Interstate Compact and repealed several Utah Code sections relating to the
Compact. The Compact was never ratified by the other states, so there is no
reason for Utah’s ratification to remain in place.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 249 – Utah Legal Personhood Amendments
Rep. Walt Brooks

House Bill 249 prohibits Utah governmental entities,
including courts, the Legislature, and other entities with adjudicatory or
rulemaking authority, from granting or recognizing legal personhood in
artificial intelligence, inanimate objects, bodies of water, land, real
property, atmospheric gases, astronomical objects, weather, plants, and
nonhuman animals or other taxa. While the list of creatures and things that
cannot receive legal personhood is diverse, the impetus of the bill is a trend
in some other states and countries to claim legal personhood for animals or
bodies of water. Groups such as Save Our Great Salt Lake spoke against the
bill, as it would foreclose the possibility of granting or recognizing
personhood in the Great Salt Lake.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 275 (2nd Substitute) – Water Amendments
Rep. Casey Snider

House Bill 275 (2nd Substitute) amends Utah Code section
57-8a-231 so that HOAs cannot require a property owner to install or keep lawn
or turf. The bill also amends Utah Code section 73-5-8 to require first class
cities and water conservancy districts within the Great Salt Lake watershed to
provide water use data “electronically in a particular format” to the Division
of Water Rights. Finally, the bill amends Utah Code section 73-10-34.5
regarding who may receive a State grant for water meter projects. The law previously
required secondary water providers to meter every connection, but allowed for
some secondary water providers to only meter at strategic points instead of
metering every connection. The law provided three circumstances under which a
secondary water provider only had to meter at strategic points. In two of the
circumstances, however, the secondary water provider was not eligible to
receive State grants to install the meters. This bill allows the grants to go
to a secondary water provider under any of the three circumstances. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 280 (5th Substitute) – Water Related Changes
Rep. Casey Snider

House Bill 280 (5th Substitute) changes how Utah funds water
infrastructure projects. Under the bill, “relevant agencies” with water-related
missions, such as the Divisions of Water Resources, Drinking Water, and Water
Quality, among others, will develop annual water infrastructure plans beginning
on June 30, 2025, that will describe needed water projects that fall within
their jurisdiction. Once adopted, these relevant agencies will submit their
plans to Utah’s Water Development Coordinating Council, which consists of
representatives from the Division of Water Resources, the Water Quality Board,
the Drinking Water Board, the Housing and Community Development Division, the
Treasurer’s office, the Department of Agriculture and Food, and, as amended by
HB 280, an individual appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate
who is employed by a water conservancy district with asset management
obligations. Using the plans submitted by the relevant agencies, the Council
will then develop a “unified water infrastructure plan,” that will identify
water projects needed to “maintain the reliable supply of safe and clean
water.” The Council will adopt the first unified plan by March 1, 2026, which
it will update at least every four years. Once created, the Division of Water
Resources will be required to reference the unified plan in the state water
plan. 

The Council will also work in consultation with the relevant
agencies to develop a written process for ranking and prioritizing water
infrastructure projects that are or will be funded with state money beginning
in fiscal year 2027. This process will also include several criteria requiring
consideration of hardships, the public interest (including conservation and the
protection of public health and safety), the use of state funding to match
federal funding, and local entity consultation. H.B. 280 also requires the
Council to seek and consider public input in developing the prioritization
process.  

The bill further requires the Utah Division of Water
Resources to study and make several recommendations by October 31, 2024,
regarding: (1) which funds or accounts used to finance water infrastructure
projects should be tied to the planning and prioritization process; (2) whether
any funds or accounts should be consolidated; and (3) whether changes to the
membership of the Council are needed. In addition, by October 31, 2025, the
Division will make recommendations about whether to impose a new fee to fund water
infrastructure projects identified in the unified water infrastructure
projects, including who will pay the fee, how the fee will be calculated and
collected, where the generated revenue will be deposited, whether the fee
should be a tax, how the revenue should be spent, the affordability for end
users, and how to ensure revenue is distributed equitably statewide. 

To help fund these efforts, the bill creates a new “Water
Infrastructure Fund” to provide money to help pay for the Council’s water
infrastructure prioritization activities, the studies H.B. 280 requires, and to
provide loans and grants for projects prioritized in the unified water
infrastructure plan. The fund will consist of appropriations from the
Legislature, money received from the federal government, grants and donations
from the public, and loan repayments. The State Treasurer will invest money in
the fund and interest and earnings from those investments will be deposited
into the fund.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 295 – Produced Water Amendments
Rep. Steven J. Lund

House Bill 295 came from the oil and gas industry. Many oil
and gas wells also produce water, thus the term “produced water.” Due to the
great depths where oil and gas are found in Utah, the produced water is
brackish and is considered a waste product by the oil and gas producer.
However, in Utah, “all waters of this state, whether above or under the ground,
are declared to be public, subject to the existing rights to the use thereof.”
Utah Code Ann. § 73-1-1(1). Thus, under current law, to make any beneficial use
of produced water would require a water right issued by the State Engineer.
One beneficial use of produced water gaining popularity is to reinject the
water back into the oil and gas bearing strata under high pressure, in the
process of hydraulic fracturing, or as it is commonly
known, “fracking.” Fracking is widely used in Utah’s oil and gas
fields to increase production, most commonly in the production of natural gas.
The fractures created free gas from the rock. Under current law a water right
is needed to use produced water for fracking, which is a beneficial use of
water. The alternative is to purchase municipal water for fracking.

Beginning May 1, 2024, the bill creates an exception
for produced water which will no longer be subject to administration and
control by the State Engineer or Utah’s Water Code (Title 73). Instead,
produced water will be governed by Title 40, Chapter 12 of the Utah Code. Title
40 addresses mining and authorizes the Board of Oil, Gas, and Mining
(“Board’) to govern production of oil and gas. Under new Chapter 12,
rather than the State Engineer, the Board will regulate the nonconsumptive
beneficial use of produced water. The nonconsumptive use of produced water
will be neither an appropriation nor waste of water. No water right will
be needed to put produced water to any nonconsumptive beneficial use.

Disposal of produced water and fracking are already
regulated by the Board under Utah Code section 40-6-5 and Rule R649. This new
law will consolidate the regulation of produced water by the Board. Limiting
the use of produced water without a water right to nonconsumptive use is
intended to avoid abuse of this exemption from water right regulation and
provides an important “sideboard” or “guard rail” to protect water users. A
larger concern for the water community is whether this exemption is simply an isolated
encroachment or is the first step of a slippery slope of future exemptions from
water right regulations. If it is the former, creation of this exception will
create little impact on water right holders and users. However, if this is
simply the first of such exceptions, the regulation of water under Title 73 and
by the State Engineer may become compromised.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

HB 453 (4th Substitute) – Great Salt Lake Revisions
Rep. Casey Snider

House Bill 453 (4th Substitute) directs the State Engineer
to develop a distribution management plan by October 1, 2025, for “Great Salt
Lake water rights,” which the bill defines as “a water right that allows for
the diversion of surface water or groundwater from a point below the Great Salt
Lake meander line and that contemplates the recovery of salts or another
mineral or element.” In other words, the distribution management plan will
focus on water rights used in mineral extraction within Great Salt Lake and
will not focus on water rights used for other purposes that have points of
diversion upstream of Great Salt Lake. 

Through the plan, the State Engineer will establish
requirements for the measurement, quantification, and reporting of diversions,
depletions, and return flows associated with extractive water rights in the
Lake in accordance with “the principles of prior appropriation and multiple use
sustained yield.” 

To accompany the plan, the bill requires the State Engineer
to establish a priority schedule that apportions extractive water rights based
on their relative priority to one another, as well as an apportionment schedule
and distribution accounting tool. The bill also requires the State Engineer to
prohibit extractive rights from diverting water rights that the Divisions of
Wildlife; State Parks; and Forestry, Fire and State Lands deliver to Great Salt
Lake under Utah’s instream flow statute, Utah Code section 73-3-30. In adopting
the plan, the State Engineer may allow water users to participate in voluntary
arrangements that compensate or mitigate for the use of extractive
rights. 

In addition to the plan, the bill increases the severance
tax on operators from 2.6% to 7.8%, with some exceptions. Among other things,
it also requires the royalty agreements issued by the Division of Forestry,
Fire and State Lands to include standards to protect Great Salt Lake and will
require extraction companies to measure their water use and test and report the
salinity of any water they discharge. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 18 (1st Substitute) – Water Modifications
Sen. Scott D. Sandall

Senate Bill 18 (1st Subsitute) is a follow-up to Senate Bill
277, a bill passed late in the 2023 Legislative Session, which allowed water
users who install agricultural water optimization projects to file applications
with the Division of Water Rights to put the “saved water”—the now-excess water
which was diverted and consumed under the more wasteful irrigation system—to
another beneficial use. SB 18 clarifies the definition of saved water as well
as 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.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 39 – Water Shareholder Amendments
Sen. Scott D. Sandall

Senate Bill 39 amends Utah Code section 73-3-3.5 regarding
shareholder change applications. Previously, if a shareholder filed a proposed
change application with a water company, the water company had 120 days to
respond if it was a permanent change application and 60 days to respond if it
was a temporary change application. Now, a water company has 120 days to
respond, irrespective of whether the change application is permanent or
temporary. The bill also has some minor clean-up language, which mainly clarifies
when the term “it” in the statute is referring to a water company or to a
court

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 77 – Water Rights Restricted Account Amendments
Sen. Scott D. Sandall

Senate Bill 77 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).

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 125 (1st Substitute) – Secondary Water Amendments
Sen. David P. Hinkins

Senate Bill 125 (1st Substitute) clarifies the secondary
water metering requirements that have been imposed by the legislature in the
past couple of years. Specifically, it states that secondary water suppliers in
the Great Salt Lake Basin do not need to meter every connection but must meter
at strategic points, even if they have fewer than 1,000 connections. The bill
does not define what a “strategic point” is, but states that secondary water
suppliers must submit an application with the State Engineer regarding where it
believes the strategic points are, and that that State Engineer will review and
approve where the strategic points are that must be metered. Senate Bill 125
goes into effect on May 1, 2024.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 145 (2nd Substitute) – Utility Easement Amendments
Sen. Daniel McCay

Senate Bill 145 (2nd Substitute) creates a statewide
association to manage requests to utility operators to mark utility facilities
before any excavation. An excavator must provide notice to a utility operator
before beginning any excavation and if damage occurs, the excavator must
contact the utility operator and stop work immediately. Senate Bill 145’s new
association will overlap with the already-created blue stakes, but the new
association is more focused on reviewing the design process and how it will affect
utility operators. Senate Bill 145 goes into effect on May 1, 2024.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 211 (1st Substitute) – Generational Water
Infrastructure Amendments
Sen. Stuart Adams

Senate Bill 211 (1st Substitute), which was sponsored by
Speaker Schultz in the House, creates the Water District Water Development
Council comprised of the four largest water conservancy districts in Utah—Weber
Basin, Jordan Valley, Central Utah, and Washington County—and the Director of
the Division of Water Rights. The new council is tasked with planning for
“generational water infrastructure” within the four districts’ service areas
and reporting their findings and recommendations annually to the Governor and Legislature.
The council cannot establish policy for the state, control money to fund water
infrastructure, or own or operate water infrastructure. The bill also creates a
new state officer, the “Utah water agent,” who is appointed by the Governor to
a six-year term with the advice and consent of the Senate. Outside of the Bear
River and Colorado River drainages, the Utah water agent assumes the
responsibilities previously assigned to the Board of Water Resources to
represent Utah in interstate negotiations. In particular, the Utah water agent
is responsible for exploring and negotiating opportunities for interstate water
importation projects. The bill was appropriated $3 million in one-time funding
and $1 million per year in ongoing funding. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 242 – Utah Lake Modifications
Sen. Michael K. McKell

Senate Bill 242 repeals the Utah Lake Restoration Act (Title
65A, Chapter 15 of the Utah Code). The Restoration Act was originally passed in
2018 and allowed for the possibility of the State to exchange public land for
restoration purposes. The bill also removes a reference to the Restoration Act
in the current Utah Lake Authority Act, which was passed in 2022.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

SB 270 (1st Substitute) – Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake
Study Amendments
Sen. Curtis S. Bramble

Senate Bill 270 (1st Substitute) enacts Utah Code section
65A-10-5, which mandates the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands to
conduct a study to enhance the benefits associated with Utah Lake. The Division
will examine, among other things, improving the clarity and quality of the
water, conserving water resources, removing invasive species, restoring and
conserving native fish and other aquatic species, and increasing the
suitability for shore birds and waterfowl. The study is to be completed no
later than November 1, 2025, and report the findings to the Natural Resources,
Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee. The bill appropriates $1.5
million from the general fund to pay for the study. It also amends Utah Code
section 63I-1-265 to state the Utah Lake Study legislation will be repealed on
July 1, 2027. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.