ST. GEORGE – Utah’s congressional delegation is asking President Trump to expedite approval of the Lake Powell Pipeline. Conservationists, however, are crying foul.
The controversial 140-mile pipeline would carry 86,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Washington and Kane counties and is under consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.
Conservationists say the pipeline is not needed, would be too expensive and would rely on Colorado River water that may not be available in the near future.
State and local water officials say the pipeline is essential to support a growing population in the St. George area – a population which will more than quadruple over the next 50 years, according to information from the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
The WCWCD estimates the cost of the project at $1.4 billion, “one of the most cost-effective options.” However, opponents believe the cost will be much higher.
The letter, dated March 23 and received by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission June 12, was signed by Utah’s entire Congressional delegation.
“It is imperative that the review process be completed by 2018,” the letter states, and asks Trump to designate the pipeline a “high priority” infrastructure project with expedited environmental reviews and approvals.
Approval is needed from FERC, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.
The letter claims the pipeline will create 90,000 jobs – 8,000 of which will be direct construction jobs – and generate more than $19 billion in increased sales tax.
The request seems to meet the intent of President Trump’s executive order 13766, which authorizes expedited environmental review of infrastructure projects, Tom Butine, president of the local conservation group Conserve Southwest Utah, said.
“So far, the planning for this project has consumed $32 million over 10 years,” Butine said. “In spite of this huge expense, the planning has neglected to answer basic questions addressing need and feasibility.” Butine said he still has the following questions:
- Why don’t we become good stewards of the abundant water we have before we look for expensive, risky water elsewhere?
- Why don’t we have real water conservation plans as required by state law?
- Is the LPP (Lake Powell Pipeline) affordable?
- How secure is the water right; under what conditions will the LPP water be reduced?
- Why can’t the people who will be paying for the LPP have a say in whether to build it or not, based on facts?
“In their letter to the president, the Senators Lee and Hatch make several unsubstantiated claims about the employment and economic benefits of the pipeline, yet ignore these fundamental questions,” Butine said.
“Our senators are addressing the wrong problem. It is not expediting the federal approval. It’s determining if the pipeline makes any sense.”
Calling the pipeline a “boondoggle,” Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zachary Frankel said the Utah agency proposing the pipeline has already requested three extensions from FERC because of concerns about whether the project is needed.
“The Utah Division of Water Resources was forced back to the drawing board when one of the Utah counties slated to receive LPP water officially backed out of the project, citing the high cost of water and availability of other water sources,” Frankel said.
“In spite of the state of Utah’s six-year delay of its own project, the Utah delegation has requested an expedited review, perhaps to help create optics that the project is needed. The Division of Water Resources still hasn’t submitted all the necessary paperwork for FERC to evaluate the project, as of June 2017.”
St. George-area residents have the highest per-person water use in the U.S., Frankel said, using more than twice the U.S. average and significantly more than Las Vegas.
“Many believe less expensive alternatives exist that are being ignored, in favor of spending billions of tax dollars,” he said.
Although the Utah delegation claims in their letter the project costs would be repaid by the recipients of the water in St. George, a series of stinging economic analyses prepared by over 20 economists from four Utah universities over the last 5 years rebuke that claim, Frankel said.
“All Utahns will pay $3 billion-$4 billion in debt for this unnecessary pork barrel pipeline and never get repaid by the 5 percent of the state population slated to get this water, if the water ever arrives,” Frankel said.
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