SALT LAKE CITY — A series of bills focused on water conservation are advancing in the Utah State Legislature.

On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee advanced a bill that attempts to tackle a critical question: what do you do with water that's conserved? Senate Bill 18 allows farmers who have switched to new water-saving technologies to file applications to either sell that conserved water or send it downstream without fear of losing their water rights.

"When they’re pulling the water out of the ground or off the river or something like that, they didn’t want to invest in the program because they’re concerned they’re going to lose that water," said Bren Edwards, a Weber County farmer who was the recipient of an agriculture optimization grant.

Edwards testified in support of SB18, which he said eases concerns he and other agriculture producers had about losing precious water rights.

"We have that option," Edwards told FOX 13 News. "Do we sell it? Is there a way they can monetarily give to the producer to go to the lake?"

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, passed the committee unanimously and public comment was in favor of it. The legislation is viewed as a way to help get water to the Great Salt Lake. However, the bill does not explicitly give conserved water to the lake.

The committee also considered Senate Bill 125, which would carve out some small, rural water districts from being forced to implement secondary water metering. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said his bill was aimed at rural areas that are not part of the Great Salt Lake Basin, but he faced some pushback from his colleagues who questioned why he was raising the exemption from companies with less than 1,000 customers to 2,500.

Secondary water metering is considered a critical component to water conservation in Utah. The meters, which tell you how much outdoor watering you actually do, has led to up to 50% savings just by informing people.

"I'm thoughtful of what you’re trying to do here," said Sen. Sandall. "I'm wondering if it’d be possible if we looked at something outside the Great Salt Lake Basin for this exemption?"

"Whatever you want to do, I'm open to suggestions," Sen. Hinkins replied.

That won the support of Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, who said he wanted to see changes to explicitly keep the Great Salt Lake Basin metered. The Utah Rivers Council also raised its own concerns about the bill.

"We can’t fundamentally answer how much water will in total be exempted from being metered," said the group's director, Zachary Frankel. "So we’re all on the same page, metering does save water."

The bill passed out of committee on the promise that it would be modified. Sen. Hinkins did appear to push back on some of the conservation policies being enacted by his fellow legislators.

"I'll be honest with you: conserving water sometimes isn't the best policy," he argued. "Because the water that you don’t use runs into the Great Salt Lake. Now if you just store it in the reservoirs, the lake's going to keep dropping as long as you're conserving."

Sen. Hinkins argued in cases like flood irrigation, there's water that runs off the field and down to other places. He argued to the committee "you're damned if you do, damned if you don't."

In the House, lawmakers passed a bill out of committee blocking entities like the Great Salt Lake from being granted "personhood" status. House Bill 249 appears aimed at a push by environmental groups to give legal recognition to the lake through the "rights of nature" movement.

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, told FOX 13 News his bill would not allow it.

"There's ways and already mechanisms to be able to protect animals, to protect nature whether it's rivers or lakes," he said. "Basically to blend them together gives more power behind them and that's not appropriate."

The bill passed 13-1 and heads to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

The House itself passed a bill to require government buildings to use less nonfunctional turf. House Bill 11 passed 51-22. Its sponsor, Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, gifted his colleagues in the House with red "MAGA" style caps that jokingly proclaimed "Make The Great Salt Lake Great Again."

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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