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Utah has billions in infrastructure needs as water, sewer lines reach end of life

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Posted at 3:15 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 20:13:32-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Some of Utah's critical infrastructure is reaching the end of its life, forcing communities to look at having to spend billions to upgrade things.

The Utah State Legislature is also being asked to spend money for infrastructure improvements to accommodate the massive growth we are experiencing. A pilot program the legislature created to match state money with community projects had $50 million put into it in May — but the communities have requested over $1.1 billion.

"I think you’ll see more than likely the legislature will look seriously at putting more money in the future in that program," said House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. "Because we do think there’s synergy you create when you have local government partnering with state government to solve arguably our biggest infrastructure need in the state, which is water."

Water projects are the bulk of the requests. Utah's Department of Environmental Quality identified $1.2 billion in unmet needs.

"Most of Utah’s drinking water and sewage infrastructure was put into place in the 1970s and '80s so it’s reaching the end of its useful life," said Erica Gaddis, the director of Utah's Division of Water Quality.

Gaddis said the division has submitted a list of projects that can be worked on to upgrade infrastructure and plan for population growth. There are also environmental projects including harmful algal bloom mitigation in Utah Lake.

"About 15% of Utahns are not connected to sewer. Some of those communities are contaminating the drinking water aquifers with nitrates so we want to solve those problems," she told FOX 13. "We have small, rural drinking water needs and dealing with the lead in schools problem."

The legislature is looking to use American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for a lot of infrastructure projects. Altogether, the legislature received 445 applications for $1.1 billion, according to data provided to FOX 13 by the House Speaker's office.

The total costs of all the projects? $4.4 billion (the communities pick up the bulk of the tab and it's all taxpayer dollars). Rural Utah communities requested roughly 47% of the requests for about $343 million.

Breaking it down statewide, there are requests for:

  • $30 million to expand broadband internet
  • $47 million for economic investment opportunities
  • $64 million for housing
  • $32 million for public health needs
  • $903 million for water and sewer projects in individual communities

Speaker Wilson told FOX 13 the legislature is likely to spend a lot to fund some drought-related projects, including expanding secondary water metering at homes and upgrading water efficiency in the agriculture industry — the state's largest water user.

"Those are the two elements that have the lowest hanging fruit that have the highest return on our dollars," he said.

Lawmakers could consider the funding requests later this year in a special session or when the budget process begins in the 2022 legislative session.