ST. GEORGE – Progress towards obtaining a permit for the controversial Lake Powell Pipeline continues to inch forward while opposition to the massive project persists.
Friday, the Division of Water Resources submitted responses to comments made by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service on the pipeline application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The proposed pipeline would cross both BLM and park service land, and both agencies commented on the project.
BLM and the park service are just two of 26 state and federal agencies that administer land in the route of the proposed pipeline and must give approval for the project to become a reality.
The Park Service concerns include protection of wildlife in the areas surrounding the pipeline and the potential for noise and disruption in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area from the construction and operation of pump facilities at Lake Powell.
BLM administers land along the pipeline route that is used for livestock grazing, dispersed recreation, highway and road corridors, mining, utility corridors and habitat for a variety of wildlife species. The agency submitted 158 pages of comments which included concerns to which the division responded. See below to access the documents.
The official license application was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May 2016.
An environmental impact statement is the next step in the process and will happen after FERC deems the project ready, Utah Division of Water Resources spokesman Joshua Palmer said. There will be more opportunities for public comment during the environmental impact statement.
Public comment was accepted when the preliminary license application was submitted in December 2015, Palmer said, and several meetings have been held in Southern Utah and Salt Lake City over the past nine years where public comments were accepted.
The division plans to submit a draft historic properties Treatment Plan and draft ethnographic report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission June 30, Palmer said, and will continue submitting any requested information throughout the environmental review process.
The Washington County Water Conservancy District will continue to work with local, state and federal partners “to progress the environmental review process,” district spokeswoman Karry Rathje said.
Southern Utah conservationists are concerned about the lack of local involvement in the decision-making process for the pipeline, the final cost to taxpayers, and whether the pipeline is needed at all, Conserve Southwest Utah board president Tom Butine said.
“As time passes it becomes even clearer how flawed the pipeline process is,” Lisa Rutherford, former board member of Conserve Southwest, said.
“The cost of the project is such that the state should put this on hold until the county grows and can pay for it if it’s needed and if the Colorado River is reliable.”
Quality of life
The application process is slow, but in the meantime, concerns about whether the pipeline is a good idea continue.
In a recent editorial, “Lake Powell pipeline? Just say no,” St. George News opinion columnist Howard Sierer pointed out that water from the pipeline could allow Washington County to grow nearly half a million residents. That much growth could destroy the quality of life that attracted many residents in the first place.
“I believe that a majority of Southern Utah residents do not want LA-style unbridled growth,” he said.
District 73 Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, told the Washington County Republican Women at a recent luncheon that he strongly favors the pipeline and the growth it will make possible.
“Maybe we’ll reach the vision of Brigham Young, and it’ll be like the Wasatch Front down here,” Noel said at the luncheon. “But that’s kind of my vision, too.”
Will there be water?
A big concern for opponents is the long-term availability of water in the Colorado River for the pipeline to carry to Southern Utah.
“Utah’s compact allocation of the river cannot change, but the amount of water resulting from that allocation certainly can,” Conserve Southwest Utah states in a white paper on the subject.
In 1988 the Department of Interior reduced the upper basin states’ share to 6 million acre-feet per year from the previous 7.45 million acre-feet per year due to drought. Legally, Utah’s claim on the Colorado River is only 23 percent of what remains in the system after senior water rights are met, the paper states.
The water right for the pipeline is junior to the lower basin, the Central Utah Project, tribal and national parks’ rights.
“Over the long-term, there is a significant risk that there will be no water to put in LPP,” the paper states.
The proposed 140-mile pipeline would stretch from Lake Powell to Washington and Kane counties and carry 86,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River.
Proponents of the pipeline say the water is needed to support Southern Utah’s expected population growth; opponents believe the pipeline is not needed if sufficient conservation measures are taken.
“We should become very good stewards of our local water first, before we look for expensive, risky water from afar,” information from Conserve Southwest Utah states. “Reasonable conservation and improved management of our local water can support the growth for more than 50 years at no risk and much less cost than the LPP.”
Critics also say the project would be prohibitively expensive and would trigger massive price increases for water in Washington County; Washington County Water Conservancy District officials say the water would be paid for in “chunks,” only as needed.
A study by University of Utah economists predicts the controversial pipeline would bring debt as high as $781 each year for every man, woman and child in the county, requiring extreme increases in water prices, impact fees or both.
Rathje said in an earlier interview that water from the pipeline will be paid for in blocks only as needed, following financing terms specified in the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act of 2006.
For more information about Conserve Southwest Utah, go here. For information about the pipeline from the Washington County Water Conservancy District, go here; information on the project from the Utah Division of Water Resources is located here.
To view or download documents related to the Lake Powell Pipeline application, go here and search using docket number P-12966.
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