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Davis Journal

GSL water bills, special education among legislation being considered as session heads into the last week

Feb 22, 2024 11:28AM ● By Becky Ginos

UTAH STATE CAPITOL—Lawmakers are going into the last week of the session and several important bills are still being considered. Some decisions may not be made until the last possible minute before the session ends on March 1.

A few bills drawing attention have to do with water and the Great Salt Lake. HB448, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, asks for the Division of Water Resources to track and report on water conservation bills from the last couple of years.

“With all of the money we’ve put in to save water to go into the lake we have to follow up on how it is working,” said Ward. “The state committed more than $500 million over the last three years to water saving efforts. That’s a huge amount. We need to see if it’s working or not working or if it needs a little tweak.”

The Division of Water Resources gives some reports to the legislature and state, he said. “This bill would mean when they’re doing that they specifically look at this. With this amount of money we want to make sure it’s doing what we said we wanted it to do.” 

HB453, sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider, R-Cache County, will keep better track of the water that goes into the lake and change water rights for the mining industry. “Currently, the mineral companies that do evaporative mining on the west side of the lake have a water right that is different from any other water right,” said Ward. “It lets them use up all of the water in the lake for their mining operations. They could take what they want.”

In the past, water that made it to the lake was defined as leftover or unwanted water, he said. “We realized that water in the lake is not wasted, but important for many different reasons. We need to give it the same priority as other water rights.”

Senate President J. Stuart Adams is sponsoring SB211 Generational Water Infrastructure Amendments that creates a state water council to manage water projects. “It hires a water agent to figure out how to get water outside of the state into the state,” Ward said. “For example, California gets water from the Colorado River, what if Utah paid the cost for a plant that pipes water from the ocean and takes the salt out so you can drink it and California agreed to let Utah get their share of the water from the Colorado River?”

It’s an idea that should be looked into, he said. “Maybe some states have more water. Long-term the agent could see what is possible. It would also make a central council so that the large water districts in the state like Weber Water or Jordan Valley have better communication. Sometimes they might move water between them.”

A bill Ward is working on that is not water related is HB347 that defines the rights of teachers and students in special education classes. “Currently federal law says that special education students have the right to receive their education in the least restrictive environment possible,” he said. “I believe in that but in court nobody else has the right to sue. Sometimes teachers are attacked or permanently injured by a student. Also, the district’s plan is that class gets canceled if a student is out of control.”

Teachers or the other students don’t have the same rights, said Ward. “Even with sexual assault, no one else can sue. They have rights too. Teachers should be able to work in a safe environment and the other students deserve to have class. HB347 asks districts to protect their rights as well.” 

All students, including special education students, do have a right to receive their education in the least restrictive environment possible, Ward said. “This right (like all rights) will serve us best when we balance it against the rights of the teachers and other students in the classroom.”

HB347 was scheduled to be heard in the House on Tuesday.