A Glimpse Into 2020 Agricultural Legislation

Feb 6, 2020

Both the House and Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committees are working to create what they believe is smart ag policy this legislative session. One of these measures is a bill to allow water banking in the state.

The water banking bill has already been passed in the Utah State Senate, but is yet to have arrived in the House. Senator Ralph Okerlund, chair of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, said if passed, the bill would start ten-year trial period. 

“The bill allows water to be put into a bank by the owner of the water. The bank can then lease it out as people need it," said Okerlund. "That may be municipalities, it may be industry, it could be anybody who needs to lease water, they can go to the bank, rather than go out and try to find someone who will lease them water and if there is water in the bank they can lease it.”

Okerlund said water banking is something a lot of people are interested in seeing whether it would work in their area. Okerlund said it won’t be a solution for everyone’s problems.

“It has to be start from the bottom people who wants to lease their water wants to bank their water, not from the top down from the state saying you have to do something,” said Okerlund.

According to Representative Logan Wilde, the vice chair of the House committee, water banking was made a priority years ago in order to help find a solution that helps with water conservation.

Wilde said “if that water is conserved, can we bank that water for certain purposes? And what we're trying to do with that is, especially in the part, you know, for agricultural communities, is we bank that water, Can we use it for other agricultural purposes? So it becomes a very multi-faceted   problem, in that we're looking at how do we go now that we're establishing that we're water banking, how do we, how do we use that now? How do we set up a system that we can use that bank water or stored water, you know, and be usable in a manageable way that's beneficial to everybody?”

Another bill to keep an eye on this session is House Bill 125 on predator regulation. Representative Kevin Stratton, the chair of the  House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, said the predator population is getting too heavy, which effects both wildlife and livestock herds.

Stratton said,“we saw a significant increase in the amount of predator kills of the wild herds but also the, the livestock. They went through calving and lambing and so forth a lot of a lot of challenges there. So you have to ask yourself, what basically what the bill does is it allows the director of the visual resources to issue additional permits to harvest the predators. If there's if he sees emergency situation arising currently, it's been a situation or he can, the action can be taken after the emergency presents itself.”

Due to the controversial nature of the bill, Stratton, Wilde, and Okerlund stressed the fact that this bill is based off of scientific decision. 

According to Wilde, when there is a population drop in wildlife, it takes over a year to go through and adjust those numbers with their biologists.

“What we're asking is that this they, if they see such a drastic emergency results that they act immediately that they don't just put it off," said Wilde. "This is a science-based bill, if you read through the bill, it says that they have to show our damn demonstrate The there is a need through their biologists”

Okerlund said another agricultural related issue that he believes will be a big topic for this session has to do with zoning laws and large animal feeding operations.

“Maybe you would say there are certain areas and these are the ones that you can put in large animal feeding operations," said Okerlund. "And we don't want to close to town, we don't want them polluting our air. We don't want to close to homes where people are going to be complaining about smells and those types of things. But here are some areas where you may be able to do these operations”.

Local governments have already started working with agriculture groups to try to see if they can work on an agreement on this issue. Right now, there is not a bill on this issue, but Okerlund said its important to get the conversation started early.