Interim In Southern Utah Recap  

September 27, 2023

In September, the Utah Legislature held interim committee meetings at Utah Tech University in St. George, Utah. This is the first time in recent state history that the entire Legislature has held interim meetings outside Salt Lake City. Southern Utah is a key part of Utah’s economy. From the snowbirds who migrate here during winter months to tourism that boasts an impressive $2.6 billion in economic output because of our five National Parks and seven state parks, the world comes to Southern Utah.

As one of the fastest-growing counties in Utah, Washington County and its neighboring areas have unique needs and interests. Making legislators more accessible to all Utah constituents allowed for a better understanding of the issues distinctive to Southern Utah and will result in better solutions for the entire state moving forward. Holding interim meetings provided a convenient platform for Southern Utahns to express the challenges in their community, and it will help all lawmakers determine how to best solve problems in a way that will improve the quality of our government and, in turn, the caliber of our state.  

Lawmakers also had the opportunity to examine many of these important issues during the long-term planning conference on Tuesday. In addition to discussing the opportunities and concerns surrounding artificial intelligence, they examined water issues and transportation needs.

Below is an overview of what the Legislature learned during the long-term planning conference and site visits:

Artificial Intelligence 

The use of generative artificial intelligence is on the rise. As exposure to and reliance on AI increases, lawmakers gathered with the tech industry and AI experts to consider the state’s approach to utilizing and regulating AI might look like. Questions surrounding advancement, risk and data privacy were discussed. 

In all, Utah will seek to lead out in between fostering AI innovation and protecting privacy, security and civil liberties. Policymakers are committed to keeping pace with the rapid advancements in AI technology to make informed decisions while consulting leading experts in this technology. 

Our Water, Our Future  

Water discussion and conservation efforts continue, lawmakers heard presentations from some of Utah’s water experts from the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and the Great Salt Lake Commissioner. These presentations gave legislators an update on Utah’s water and infrastructure needs, conservation wins and the environmental impact of a prolonged drought.  

The Legislature has appropriated nearly one billion dollars to water conservation since 2022. While statewide water infrastructure has been boosted in recent years, there is still much work to do to ensure our infrastructure can continue operating at the high levels needed for optimal conservation. This historically wet year has had an insurmountably positive impact on the GSL lake and state, but we must continue conservation efforts and continue to plan for the future to ensure this extra water goes to good use. 

Enhancing Quality of Life as Utah Grows  

As the best economy in the nation, Utah continues to welcome individuals from many states who move to our beautiful state. As a result of our growing economy, we have seen an increased need for housing and transportation infrastructure. Lawmakers had the opportunity to hear from the Utah Department of Transportation and others about the Legislature’s role in helping prepare the state for continued growth.  

Since 2012, the population of Utah has grown by approximately 20%. There is a housing shortage currently and the unaffordable housing market will likely continue to grow. Likewise, the number of vehicle miles traveled in Utah continues to increase every year. Both statistics demonstrate the need for increased investment in affordable housing and transportation. The Legislature examines these issues every year, constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of life for new and old Utah residents. The discussion during the long-term planning conference centered around the growth predictions for the next several decades and will help direct legislation related to these issues during the 2024 General Session. 

Site Visits  

Lawmakers visited several different sights that relate to the challenges revolving around the region’s most precious resource, water. 

Local officials in Southern Utah have been faced with the demands that accompany one of the fastest-growing cities in America, all the while having a limited water supply. Washington County Water Conservancy District showed some of its conservation efforts by taking lawmakers to Quail Creek Diversion Dam, La Verkin Hot Springs and the Desert Color community. 

Quail Creek Diversion Dam diverts water from the Virgin River and travels to the Hurricane Hydropower Plant before delivery to Sand Hollow and/or Quail Creek reservoirs. This water is then sent via 60-inch pipelines capable of pumping 1,000 gallons per second before being treated and used for much of Washington County’s water supply. This diversion is significant because it redirects water from the Virgin River several miles upstream before the La Verkin Hot Springs, where the spring adds high salinity and contamination levels, making it one of the top three pollutants of the Colorado River, which is the lifeblood of the southwestern United States. 

Lastly, lawmakers visited the Desert Color community, Utah’s first planned development to be localscape certified in the state. Localscaping utilizes more desert-friendly plants. The community also reuses treated wastewater, holding it in two ponds to water the landscape plants and lawns, helping stretch the water supplies even further and more efficiently. 

The forward-thinking that the Southern Utah region has done to preserve and conserve water is impressive. Solutions addressing water may require different methods in each area. Spending time at these sites allowed lawmakers to see firsthand many of the unique approaches to water that exist in Southern Utah.