Feds cut water from Lake Powell; resource planning committee hears pipeline alternatives

ST. GEORGE – The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that it released the lowest amount of water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead ever due to ongoing drought conditions. This is the first time this measure has been taken since the reservoir was filled in the 1960s.

The projected release of water is 7.48 million acre-feet and will result in an additional 8-foot decline in water levels at Lake Mead. However, the Bureau stated in a press release that “Lake Mead will operate under normal conditions in calendar year 2014.”

States that are a part of the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico will also still receive their full allocation of water in accordance with the “2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead the 1944 Treaty with Mexico.”

This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak said. “Reclamation’s collaboration with the seven Colorado River basin states on the 2007 Interim Guidelines is proving to be invaluable in coordinating the operations of the reservoirs and helping protect future availability of Colorado River water supplies.”

Federal managers will only allow so much water to be released so that power generation at Glen Canyon Dam can continue unhindered.

So what does this mean for Southern Utah?

Maybe not much in the immediate future, though Christie Wedig of the Glen Canyon Institute, an environmental advocacy group, told KUTV that less water to places like Arizona, which is a primary agricultural provider, will produce less, resulting in higher food prices in the region and beyond.

Agriculture would take a big hit,” she said, “we’ll see food prices increase throughout the United States.”

Ron Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said he didn’t see the lowered draw from Lake Powell negatively affecting the county.

The reservoirs were designed to be drained and filled, Thompson said, and compared Lake Mead and Lake Powell to the Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs. Currently, the local reservoirs are at 60 percent capacity. Water is also being released from Sand Hollow into Quail Creek as needed, he said.

CIRPAC meeting: Lake Powell Pipeline and possible alternatives

In its meeting Thursday, the Community Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Committee – CIRPAC – and members of the public heard a general proposal for conservation-based measures that would provide an alternative to the pipeline. The 2006 Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act and Utah’s role in the pipeline project were also reviewed.

Members of CIRPAC represent municipal, banking, development, agricultural, citizen and environmental interests who work with the WCWCD and are advised of current and future projects and policies. In turn, committee members offer advice and recommendations, yet do not determine WCWCD policy.

Amelia Nuding, a water-energy analyst with Western Resource Advocates, presented conservation-based alternatives to the committee.

“Conservation is the cornerstone,” she said, though it was not an exclusive alternative.

Nuding proposed that Washington County cut back its water use by 1 percent per person per year. Doing so could extend the current water supply through 2060. She also said the decrease was in line with Gov. Gary Herbert’s goal of 25 percent water-use reduction statewide by 2025.

Conservation-based measures – such as conservation-based billing rates for water, xeriscaping, water reuse and agricultural water-transfers – could could cost the residents of Washington County around $500 million, which is one-third the cost of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, Nuding said.

Through these efforts, Nuding said the 292-gallon per capita currently used by county households would drop to 254 GPC by 2025, and ultimately to 176 GPC.

Nuding said her projections and numbers were based on data gathered from 22 different draft studies, including those done by the state concerning the Lake Powell Pipeline and population projections.

As the numbers of the draft studies are all preliminary, Nuding said her numbers were the same and would be refined as the draft studies are finalized.

Understand those numbers have never been right,” said David Clark, a CIRPAC member representing local banking interests. He is also a former speaker of the Utah House and helped pass the 2006 Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act.

Clark spoke specifically to population projections from the Utah Governor’s Office. Whatever rate of growth the state predicted for the county, it was either overestimated or underestimated, he said.

December 2012 projections have indicated a slower rate of growth that, could push the need for the pipeline back 10 to 20 years.

However, due to a recent jump in development in Washington County, the state is considering moving forward with the pipeline and not postponing it, Deputy Director of the Utah Division of Water Resources Eric Millis said. 

“Water has always been a precious commodity,” Millis said.

As the county’s water resources are expected to be fully developed by 2020, he said this adds a sense of urgency to the need for an alternative water source for the region, which includes Kane County: Its an important project that will continue to meet the needs of the area.”

For the state’s part, Utah will handle the “lion’s share of the financing,” Millis said. Hydroelectric power generation created along the pipeline’s route will also help offset the cost once it is built.

The current price tag stands at $1.5 billion. Opponents claim that cost will be much higher down the road due to interest.

Utah also has relations with Arizona and other states that have stakes in the Colorado River.

Millis said the state has made good progress in reducing its water consumption over the years. State officials also believe they can encourage continued conservation without implementing “draconian measures” in order to achieve the governor’s 2025 reduction goal.

While conservation is important, Millis also said “it won’t meet all of our needs.”

Conservation needs to be coupled with proper and long-term water management, and that is where the Lake Powell Pipeline comes in, he said. The pipeline, once built, could give the county water supply protection, and also provide a measure of protection against climate change and drought conditions.

As for the Colorado River, Millis said the Bureau of Reclamation has mapped the river’s annual flow between 1490 and 1997 through a tree ring study. According to the data the annual flow has been fairly consistent, even in lean years.

The average flow stays fairly constant,” Millis said. The reclamation bureau has determined the Colorado River to be a reliable source of water to draw from in the future, he said.

In contrast, according to a report from American Rivers, a group advocating the protection and restoration of the nation’s natural water ways, the Colorado River is the most endangered river in the country.

During the CIRPAC meeting Thursday, Thompson said that he did not put much stock in Nuding’s conservation-based measures. He also said that he did not hold with certain environmental advocacy groups, as they have called for the draining of Lake Powell in the past.

Western Resources Advocates was not one of those groups, Nuding said.

Related posts:

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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9 Comments

  • ken August 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Let’s see CIRPAC represents only those appointed by Thompson, nothing more then a rubber stamp for Thompson. There is no going against the will of the baron and NO independent thinking!!! Time for the people to take back Washington County it has been exploited for the benefit of a few for way too long!!

    • Aaron August 17, 2013 at 11:32 am

      and Thompson is just a tool for the big land owners / developers down by the airport in Washington.

      We get worked over on our taxes so they can toss up water-sucking golf courses and bait retirees.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if the region had a REAL growth strategy?

  • eieio August 17, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Hmmm or maybe the majority of the county is satisfied with Thompson’s work. 🙂

    • rb August 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      Nope, that is way too reasonable. Throw in accusations of embezzlement, dishonesty, and ulterior motives and I’m sure people will be much more eager to listen to you.

  • Bill Jordan August 17, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Seems to me that the residents of Southern Utah would be better off installing a dam below Pineview Res. at the west end of the gorge at a much lower cost. The gorge is really unused and would hold a lot of water and open that area to recreational use also. Not to mention it would be a buffer to future flooding along the Santa Clara river.

  • tommy August 17, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    We took out our front lawn 8 years ago,and probably use less water than anyone. Now they want us to cut back on our water usage even more? How about the golf course I drive by at 7pm in 100 degree weather watering the grass,and all the new construction putting in grass lawn for sale? wake up people,we live in the desert!

  • real life August 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    If you wanna keep that grass green, you better hurry up and build your giant silly straw to that lake!

  • Lisa August 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    When one hears Dave Clark talk about the Lake Powell Pipeline and support its need, it’s important to “follow the money” and consider that Dave is a high-level member of Zions Bank – the organization that may very likely be involved in handling the funding of the pipeline through the state – if that ever gets approved. We can only hope that cooler heads will prevail. Some of us who heard Dave and others at the CIRPAC meeting challenging Amelia were amazed at the vitriolic nature of the attacks. Fortunately, Amelia was not ruffled and responded with much more kindness than she was given.

  • rb August 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    No, that’s much too simple and reasonable to be the answer. It must be a conspiracy!

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