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Despite questions from lawmakers about the timing, the Senate Natural Resources committee approved legislation Wednesday to create a slush fund for two controversial water projects.
Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams' SB281 would link the proposed Bear River Project and Lake Powell Pipeline, creating a state bank account where lawmakers can periodically stash funding for the water systems.
Some senators questioned, "Why now?"
"Establishing a fund with no money is like a homeless guy buying a wallet," said Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.
Christensen also compared the bill to "setting the table for supper with no food" and putting money "in the cart where isn't even a horse."
Adams is hoping to set aside some funding during the 2015 session to prepare Utah's "undeveloped share of the Bear and Colorado rivers" and repair and replace unfunded federal water projects.
Committee members and critics at the meeting pointed out that a fund for water projects already exists. They wondered why another fund is necessary.
Most of the opposition was directed at the Lake Powell Pipeline, which would send water 140 miles from the massive reservoir to St. George at an expected cost of at least $1 billion dollars.
Adams and water managers argued the water projects are necessary as the state's population is expected to double in the next 45 years.
"The only limiting factor to growth is water," Adams said.
Cedar City Republican Sen. Evan Vickers said the next step, if Adams' bill is approved this year, is to find money for the fund.
"For the life of me I don't see the practical purpose of establishing a fund with no money," Christensen said. But, "you have done enough work to put the thing together, I'll go ahead and give you a pass on it."