Utah Water Levels, Development and Property Taxes

Utah Water Levels, Development and Property Taxes

Utah water levels remain low along with those in the rest of the Southwestern states. Now, legislators are asking if property taxes should continue to pay for development or if water costs should be covered by user fees, as the megadrought rages on.

Utah water levels are low, but the development rages on.

Western states including Utah often use property taxes as well as sales tax to pay for the costs of their water. This has the unfortunate effect of creating water waste, which is especially problematic at a time when dwindling water levels are just getting lower as the region suffers through an extended megadrought that has been plaguing the region for decades.

This year, the drought was so bad, researchers called it the “worst in 1,200 years.” Despite low water levels across Utah, growth in the state continues apace, leaving some legislators to question where the money to pay for water resources infrastructure should come from. Typically, such development is paid for by property taxes.

Now, Utah Senators Daniel McCay R-Riverton and Casey Snider, R-Paradise want to end that practice and have introduced a bill to force residential and agricultural users to pay for their water through user fees. This would mean that the more a customer uses, the more they pay. According to Snider, We act as though there is a surplus [of water] and rather than charge people what is the real cost of water, we’ll disperse that cost into their tax bill and pretend like a drought doesn’t exist.”

The intention is to force customers to use less, which executive director of the Utah Rivers Council Zach Frankel supports. According to Frankel, “Property tax lowers the price of water and leads to this really high waste.” Water users in Utah have some of the lowest water rates in the nation, yet per capita water use is some of the highest.

The bill has mixed support from other civic groups, however. The measure is popular with the Utah Taxpayers Association but the Utah League of Cities and Towns has opposed it. Still, despite the low water levels, there is a big push in the state for more development, including a consortium of Utah districts pushing for $32 billion in new water projects.

[The Salt Lake Tribune]