OPINION – John Wesley Powell said that the limiting factor in developing the west would be arid climate. Boy did we prove him wrong. Through engineering feats we created a plumbing system across the West that seems to defy reality, with nearly 40 million people living off the Colorado River, a river that feeds Lake Powell and is seen by many as the answer-all to hydrating the Southwest and by others as a rapidly diminishing resource to be protected. Enter a new player into the equation: quagga mussels. New player, new debate – will the invasive species be the river’s white knight? I wonder.
Powell, a beloved scientist and political advisor in Washington, went down in near infamy for suggesting that the dreams of grandeur of politicians, developers, salesmen, profiteers, and charlatans of the Wild West, were folly. I am sure many a man would love to say to him, “told ya so,” in the face of the sprawling and exploding West. But let’s hope that Powell’s ghost does not come back to haunt us and say, “I told you so.”
The Colorado River is the most heavily regulated and controlled river in the world, with pipes, aqueducts, and reservoirs stretching the finite amount of water flowing through it up to as much as four times its annual flow. The problem is that we need even more than that, and unless we discover a way to create water out of nothing, we are going to exhaust the only real source of life blood in the West.
And now we have invasive quagga mussels in Lake Powell – our straw from the Colorado River. With the Lake Powell Pipeline, we must now contend with the reality of the invasive mussel being pumped into our reservoirs and rivers and destroying aquatic life and recreation; not to mention the increased cost of managing them.
We will all but guarantee getting our fresh water sources will become infested with the mussels if the pipeline gets built. And it will be disastrous. And who will foot the bill? We will. Not only will we have to pay for the pipeline, we will have to pay to keep the mussels out, pay higher water bills to clean the mussels out of our reservoirs, the pipeline, and water treatment plants, and we will have to pay for it whether the water is there or not.
The WCWCD states that the quagga mussel is not a big deal, that there are chemicals that can be used to keep them out of pipelines and that by the time the pipeline gets built there will be a solution to the mussel problem. I find this hard to believe considering the disaster this mussel is in other states. According to the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California:
Quagga and zebra mussel invasions create an immense financial burden because of the need to continuously and actively manage these pests. It has been estimated that it costs over $500 million (US) per year to manage mussels at power plants, water systems, and industrial complexes, and on boats and docks in the Great Lakes. Similar yearly management costs are anticipated for California. For example, a recent estimate (2009) by the Army Corps of Engineers indicates that quagga mussels could cause annual losses of $22 million to the Lake Tahoe region should they establish there. The report details potential damage to tourism, reduced property values, and increased maintenance costs.
I attended one of the Washington County Water Conservancy District’s meetings with Jeremy Aguero, the Las Vegas consultant retained by the WCWCD. He was trying to sell, not us mind you, but bankers, developers, realtors, and land owners, on the Lake Powell Pipeline. Why? Because he is trying to ease fears of those who will either invest or make profits from the pipeline. In other words, follow the money.
The Lake Powell pipeline, like the Los Angeles aqueduct and the Central Arizona Project, is for growth and money, not for gardens and grass and not because there is a pressing need. While it is true that in order to grow there needs to be water, it is not true that growth is something that just happens. It is not an inevitable given.
Cost of living, desirability of place, taxes, and development costs all determine growth. The problem with politicians and elected or unelected officials is that they can control growth, they just don’t want to. It is more profitable in the short term to allow it unfettered because it is profitable for a few.
I was in a class at Dixie State University when Ron Thompson, the general manager for the WCWCD, spoke about the Lake Powell Pipeline. At one point he was asked what would happen when the water from the pipeline ran out, or wasn’t enough. He said that someone smarter than him would come up with a solution. In other words, it’s in the future, and is not his problem. Does that sound like a wise strategy from our water manager?
It seems extremely shortsighted in my opinion, and betrays the blind faith we put in science and technology to always find a way. In other words, we are not living within the natural limits of an arid climate, with a real water budget, we are hoping against reality that we can have our cake and eat it too.
The water district suggests that we could have upwards of 800,000 people in Washington County. That is roughly seven times what is here now. Can you imagine that? If you think traffic is bad during the Ironman or Senior Games, imagine 800,000 people living here all the time.
I don’t know why you live here, but I assume it is for similar reasons that I do: quality of life. Part of the quality of life here includes clean air and low pollution, low population and traffic, low crime rates, beautiful scenery and outdoor recreation in abundance. It includes places that offer solitude, silence, and wide open spaces.
If we allow the Lake Powell Pipeline to be built, that will all change. With more water will come more people and more people will change how things are. I am not saying that growth is bad, it isn’t, but out of control, no-limits growth is.
Edward Abbey once remarked that uncontrollable growth is the mantra of the cancer cell. In other words, it grows without regard to the life of the host and only stops once the host dies. We, the people of the west are the host in this analogy. We must hold our elected and unelected officials to a rigorous level of accountability when they hold this much control over our future. They hold the quality of life of our future in their hands.
If we get the pipeline, we must demand that our officials implement smart growth regulations consistent with Vision Dixie, that they bank water for emergencies, and that they use the water wisely rather than allowing growth to use up all the water and then start looking for solutions once the population has ballooned and we are out of water.
Just because we outsmarted John Wesley Powell for a time does not mean we will not live to rue the day we did not heed his warnings. The West is arid and does not have much water. The Colorado River is already over allocated and taxed. To grow at the current rate is reckless and unwise. To blindly believe that someone will find a solution is not only dangerous, it is foolish. The Colorado River is not a credit card with no limit, it is a finite resource that is determined by snow accumulation. Building the Lake Powell Pipeline to enable more out-of-control growth is greedy. We do have it in our power to put a stop to it, we just have to act.
See you out there.
Guest columnist: Greta Hyland
Greta Hyland is stepping in this week for her husband, Dallas Hyland. The opinions stated in this column are her own and may not be representative of St. George News.
- Water district says quagga mussels don’t jeopardize Lake Powell Pipeline – March 1, 2014
- Lake Powell infested with invasive mussels – Feb. 27, 2014
- Mussel discovery in Lake Powell; boaters must decontaminate before leaving – April 3, 2013
- State officials expand efforts to battle invasive mussels – May 7, 2012
- Mussels in Utah: so far, so good; except maybe Sand Hollow – Jan. 25, 2012
- Two Boats Decontaminated at Checkpoint, Work Continues to Keep Quagga Mussels out of Utah – May 18, 2011
Lake Powell Pipeline
- Feds cut water from Lake Powell; resource planning committee hears pipeline alternatives
- CIRPAC meeting on conservation, Lake Powell pipeline
- Lake Powell Pipeline dominates water forum
- Letter to the Editor: Lake Powell Pipeline a ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ scam, a ‘pipe dream’
- Letter to the Editor: The flaws of ‘Fill Mead First’
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