Officials say water systems need $33 billion upgrade

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SALT LAKE CITY– Utah water conservancy districts officials want state aid to repair aging water system pipelines.

Lawmakers met Wednesday, May 18, to discuss possible topics for the 2017 Legislature. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Lawmakers met Wednesday, May 18, to discuss possible topics for the 2017 Legislature. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Officials testified at a legislative interim committee on Wednesday, May 18, telling lawmakers that the costs for repair and conservation for water pipelines could total $33 billion. District leaders asked the state government to cover an estimated 15 to 20 percent, or about $2 billion through a loan that would be repaid by water earnings.

The project for repair and conserving pipelines will occur over the next 50 years.

Currently, more than 100 miles of pipelines need to be replaced because of corrosion. The cast iron pipes are over 60 years old and are being replaced by modern CVC piping at a rate of three miles per year.

“We’re grateful to those who have gone in the past and had a game plan that allows us to drink water. Now, we have to pick up the pieces and go forward,” said Gene Shawcroft, general manager for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

He compared the current pipes to a car with parts being replaced over time. He said they’ve been replacing tires and oil on the “car.”

“Now, we’re to the point that the car at some point in time needs to be pushed off the cliff, and we need to have a new car,” Shawcroft said. “And that’s the thing that we’re doing for the first time with these large projects.”

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, reminded the water districts that they needed to be prepared to pay for the costs themselves. He said that many of the legislators wouldn’t be around in the next few years, and, if funding is provided, the districts may not keep receiving it from the state.

“You agencies are responsible for your own indebtedness and your own future projects here, ”  Jenkins said. “Get your house in order.”

Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab,  disagreed with Jenkins.

“We can’t do without water, folks,” Noel said. “If some legislature decides they’re not going to support water or they’re going to remove funds for water, we just throw them out of office.”

Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council,spoke when the floor was opened to the public. He argued that some of the infrastructure costs were from 2015 and already had been funded.

“We really need to think about money because the question is ‘is there a credible need for money?'” Frankel said.

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