ST. GEORGE – The Lake Powell Pipeline flows a little closer to reality as federal regulators said Monday they are moving forward with an environmental analysis of the project.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, announced it had accepted the hydropower license application for the pipeline project that was submitted last year by the state. The commission will be initiating an environmental study to determine the project’s feasibility. A public comment period will last into early February.
The proposed 140-mile long, 70-inch diameter pipeline is designed to taken water from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Washington County. The pipeline is anticipated to bring 77 million gallons of water daily to 13 communities in Washington and Kane counties.
According to FERC, the pipeline will carry water 50 miles uphill from Lake Powell to a high point in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, with the remaining 90 miles running through a series of hydroelectric turbines on the way to Sand Hollow.
“This is a major milestone toward meeting Southern Utah’s need to diversify its water supply and develop additional resources to meet anticipated demand,” said Eric Millis, Utah Division of Water Resources director. “Permitting a water project is a lengthy process and this is a significant step.”
Communities in Washington County get their water from a single source – the Virgin River. State and county water planners have said for years that the county needs to diversify its water resources, especially in light of expected growth in population.
Washington County is projected to have a population of 400,000 by 2060. The Washington County Water Conservancy District has said the development of current water resources and conservation will only be able to make up a little over half of the water supply needed to sustain a population that size. The Lake Powell Pipeline, water district officials say, will be able to supply the rest.
FERC has overseen the application due to the six hydroelectric turbine generation stations to be built along the pipeline’s route. Those facilities will supply some of the energy to power pump stations moving water through the pipeline.
While the commission has jurisdiction over those facilities, it stated Monday that it is reviewing whether it has jurisdiction over the rest of the project’s components.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council and a longtime pipeline opponent, told The Salt Lake Tribune that if other federal agencies become involved, the pipeline could face more intense National Environmental Policy Act review.
FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said the commission plans to produce documentation required by other agencies, such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Those agencies, along with others under the U.S. Interior Department, are already heavily involved in the process, said Ron Thompson, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
“In terms of significance, it really won’t make any difference,” Thompson said.
The process of establishing jurisdiction over the project in whole or in part is a way for the agencies to determine which one will be the lead agency overseeing the project, he said.
“It really shouldn’t make much difference in the long run,” Thompson said, adding that he expects to see the environmental study to finish sometime in 2019 with a conclusion favoring the Lake Powell Pipeline.
If all goes well, construction on the pipeline could begin in the early 2020s.
FERC has opened a public comment period lasting 60 days of the issuance of the go-ahead for the environmental study. Those wishing to comment can visit the agency’s website. The project number is P-12966-004.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.