Letter: Utah law undermines incentives to conserve water

(Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 46-year-old Millsite Dam outside Ferron is undergoing a long-overdue $28 million renovation with the help of federal funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The popular reservoir will remain empty while work continues upgrading its spillway, raising its crest four feet among other improvements. Yet the 18,000-acre-feet reservoir is a poster child of the sedimentation problem that is robbing Utah of its water-storage capacity. On average, 441 tons of sediment are washed into Millsite, reducing its capacity by nearly a half a percent each year.

I am writing in support of Utah Senate Bill 214, which would limit the amount of property taxes that could be charged by water districts in the state, and encourage water conservation in Utah. The system that Utah has in place for water taxes and water pricing is flawed. Currently, property owners pay a tax to water districts to sell water to the property. This creates internal subsidies that allow water districts to sell water cheaper than true market value. This taxation leads to some of the lowest water prices in the west and encourages high municipal usage.

The tax and subsidy system is problematic, as it also raises issues of taxpayer money being used for subsidies for entities that don’t pay taxes and use large amounts of water. Universities, golf courses and government buildings use 10 to 20 times more water and are still given the subsidized price of water. Allowing these entities to have the subsidized water price creates no incentive for conservation, as they are paying little to nothing for water usage at the expense of the taxpayers.

Supporting SB214 would end this wasteful cycle and provide financial relief to property owners and forge a path towards real water conservation in Utah.

Baile Turnbow, Salt Lake City

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