Rep. Mike Kohler says water a focus in legislative session
As the 2022 legislative session gets underway, state representative Mike Kohler, whose district includes Wasatch County and Park City’s 84060 ZIP code, says water conservation bills are in the works for the legislative session that began Tuesday.
Last year, as the director of the Midway Irrigation Company, Kohler used voluntary water rationing to get Midway through a summer of drought without stopping water delivery altogether. But he says the model of merely asking residents to conserve is a short-term solution, and there needs to be more institutional action for the long run.
“We conserved, you know, a couple percent this year and then built 50 more homes, and [that conserved water has] been used,” he said, “so we’re conserving for the next houses, not necessarily for the future, and at some point in time, those have to come together.”
He said conservation will become easier as technology improves.
One bill he’s bringing to this legislative session would simplify and streamline water rights records-keeping and make it easier to know who’s entitled to water.
“We have a lot more water on paper than we have flowing out of our rivers,” he said, “and some of those that aren’t being used, based on state law, don’t exist anymore, and we need to refine what those are. The process is taking a lot longer than I think anybody expected. Some of these processes started clear back in the ‘30s, and they’re still going and haven’t been finished.”
While he says there’s a sense of urgency, it’s not time to dictate what farmers can grow - yet.
“Drinking water is the priority,” he said. “The alfalfa fields are still there, they have the rights to do it, but when push comes to shove, it just depends on how the year will pan out here. If we can get a good supply of water in the hills, no problem with alfalfa, but if we get in a tight spot, they’ll be the first that have to cut back some.”
Kohler said in Midway last year, when drought levels were especially severe, farmers cut back on water use but could still maintain their crops. He added that as an alfalfa farmer himself, he supports growing it.