ST. GEORGE – Utah Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz took shots at Gov. Gary Herbert Thursday over public lands and water policy during a stop in St. George. In particular, Weinholtz denounced the Lake Powell Pipeline and his opponent’s support of it.
“This is not good for Utah citizens,” Weinholtz said in reference to the Lake Powell Pipeline at a press conference held at St. George’s Pioneer Park.
He pointed to the pipeline as an example of Herbert’s failing to meet the state’s unique water issues.
The candidate cited a recent study released by University of Utah economists that claims water rates in Washington County will go up as much as 500 percent in the wake of the Lake Powell Pipeline’s construction.
Part of the study also states that Utah taxpayers will be left with 72 percent of the bill for the potentially $1 billion to $2 billion pipeline project.
The Washington County Water Conservancy District has since disputed the study’s claims.
State funding for the pipeline would be made possible through the infrastructure funding amendments passed by the Legislature and signed by Herbert last year.
“The Lake Powell Pipeline is unnecessary, unwanted and fiscally irresponsible,” Weinholtz said, adding that many Washington County residents, and Utahns in general, don’t want the pipeline.
As governor, Weinholtz said, he would fight to protect the state’s “precious desert water.”
Opposition to the Lake Powell Pipeline, as well as the Bear River Project, is a part of Weinholtz’s proposed water policy, details of which were released on Weinholtz’s campaign website Thursday afternoon.
Other points of the policy include implementing and promoting water conservation practices such as using more efficient irrigation practices and allowing water districts to implement penalties on improper water users.
The policy proposes the creation of a statewide universal metering system and tiered water rates. The plan also calls for an end to the practice of using property taxes to subsidize the cost of water so customers pay for what they actually use.
“Currently, we have no incentive to conserve,” Weinholtz said.
Weinholtz said he also supports looking at “smart local solutions” for water county needs versus a billion-dollar “boondoggle” like the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“Gov. Herbert’s support of the Lake Powell Pipeline is representative of his poor leadership and lack of vision and indifference toward everyday Utahns and their families,” Weinholtz said. “I stand with the people of Washington County and Utah against the Pipeline.”
Within Washington County, a general theme of support for the pipeline has been expressed by elected officials at the county and municipal level – provided the project is financially feasible.
Proponents for the Lake Powell Pipeline have also said it is necessary for the continued growth of the county, which is expected to reach a population of over 300,000 by 2040.
Dorothy Engelman, Democratic candidate for Senate District 29, was at the press conference and agreed with Weinholtz’s opposition to the pipeline and call for conservation.
“There’s no incentive whatsoever to get people to conserve,” she said.
Engelman also said the money spent on studies supporting the pipeline could have been better spent on educating the public about conservation.
As to public lands, Weinholtz pointed to Herbert’s signing of the Public Lands Transfer Act in 2012 as a failure at being a good steward of Utah’s lands.
The governor, Weinholtz said, wants to get state control of 31 million acres of federally-managed public lands within the state so they can be sold or leased to the highest bidder. He also claims Herbert’s primary interest is not to Utahns but to developers and corporations that would extract resources from those lands.
Herbert’s campaign has denied this.
The Lands Transfer Act called upon the federal government to hand over management of public lands within Utah – minus national monuments, parks and related areas (the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument being the one exception), as well as Native American holdings – by Dec. 31, 2014. To perhaps no one’s surprise, it didn’t happen.
State officials have since looked at the possibility of taking the the federal government to court over the matter. The suit could cost up to $14 million, Wienholtz said, and he is firmly against it.
Supporters of the measure advocate opening up parts of Utah’s lands to energy development and mineral extraction as a way to better fund Utah schools.
“I want to protect our irreplaceable public lands,” Weinholtz said. In contrast, he said Herbert is “endangering” the public lands.
Weinholtz will be speaking more on the matter of public lands in a press conference to be held in Salt Lake City next Tuesday.
- PDF: Weinholtz’s propose water policy
- Video: Utah Gubernatorial candidate debate held Sept. 26, 2016, at Utah State University by the Utah State Commission.
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