Right On: It’s not the pipeline, it’s how many people you want here

Undated image courtesy Pixabay, St. George News

OPINION — Forget about how much the Lake Powell Pipeline would cost to build and operate.

Forget arguing about whether we can afford it.

The real question – the one that needs to be answered first – is how many people do you want living in Washington County? The pipeline controversy flows from the answer to this basic question.

So where do you stand? Here are three approximate but generally accepted numbers that will help frame your answer to the question:

The latter two numbers are estimates but they’re good enough to get to the heart of the issue.

Like many of you, I’m on record as not wanting Washington County to look like Los Angeles. However, there are a large number of our fellow citizens who favor 509,000, and not just “greedy” landowners and developers.

The proximate cause of renewed public angst: the governor’s Executive Water Finance Board arrived in St. George last week to solicit public input and conduct working meetings with the Washington County Water Conservancy District.

My lower growth preferences aside, the impression created by the board’s public input meeting was shockingly poor. Chairman Phil Dean said “the state assumes the Lake Powell Pipeline will be built.” That’s hardly the way to open public comment on an expensive and controversial project.

Things got worse, much worse. John Fredell, the water district’s pipeline project director, gave possibly the worst major-project presentation I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen plenty, good and bad. His stumbling presentation wasn’t worthy of a $500,000 city street renovation, much less the multi-billion dollar pipeline.

His scare tactic for why our pipeline is needed: Cape Town, South Africa, may have to shut off residential water. Not only is his example on the wrong continent, it’s wrong on the facts.

Per the National Geographic, Cape Town is running out of water because “overdevelopment, population growth, and climate change upset the balance between water use and supply.”

Gee, who’d a thunk that overdevelopment could cause a water shortage? Not our water district that hands out water taps like candy at a child’s birthday party.

Fredell successfully led a major Colorado Springs pipeline development project, netting him the Lake Powell Pipeline job. But based on first impressions, he’ll be an ineffective salesman for the project.

As reported in St. George News, the meeting’s public comments included a number of thoughtful ideas, both pro and con.

Several homebuilders spoke about how Washington County’s economy depends on growth and the jobs that growth creates. The governor’s board seems focused on the same thing: growth is good because it adds to the economic base and vitality.

Mayors Jon Pike of St. George and Chris Hart of Ivins spoke in favor of the economic growth possible with the pipeline.

Hart, a developer, said 20 percent of our jobs would disappear without growth.

Pike said, “St. George is an engine of growth for Utah.”

But a majority expressed opposition that ran from those fearing excessive costs would drive them from their homes to the water district’s lack of transparency.

Numbers, the root of transparency, are conspicuously avoided by pipeline advocates, numbers they have but don’t share.

How much will the pipeline cost? The water district has been dissembling on that one for over 10 years.

Why do Washington County residents use 285 gallons of water per capita per day while residents of Las Vegas use 205 and Tucson residents just 88?

Could it be that Tucson charges high-volume users far steeper rates than we do, promoting conservation? How about banning front yard grass and paying owners to remove existing lawns like they do in Las Vegas?

One citizen asked what the change in his monthly water bill would be. In 2015, 20 economists from three Utah universities predicted “huge” increases.

The water district responded to the economists, saying that if the pipeline is built, water rates will go up “slightly,” and that the economists’ arguments were not valid because water is “an essential human commodity.”

Huh? Because water is essential, water rates will go up only slightly? That non sequitur would be demolished by any high school debater.

A careful reading of the water district’s response shows that it argued with the economists’ numbers but presented none of its own in rebuttal. Somebody would have to pay for high-cost Lake Powell Pipeline water. Who?

If the pipeline isn’t built, how many more water taps can the district hand out and still maintain its 15 percent margin of safety? The only reason to hide that number is to give out too many, then tell us we must have the pipeline.

Folks, we’re being railroaded into the pipeline. Those who control access to the facts and numbers required to make a rational pipeline decision are all in favor: the state, the water district and local government leaders.

If you’re in favor of 509,000 residents in Washington County, sit back and enjoy the ride.

For the rest of us, our only hope is Gov. Gary Herbert’s statement that he wants a local vote. And that he listens to the result.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: hsierer@stgeorgeutah.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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21 Comments

  • Brian March 29, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Herbert can say he wants the public to have a vote because he isn’t running for re-election and can say whatever he wants now, like turning his back on the 2nd Amendment and selling the vast majority of his constituents down the river.

  • Pheo March 29, 2018 at 8:42 am

    Thank you!

    It is always irritating that every discussion about this issue stats with the inevitability of a half million people in the county. Landowners want that growth for obvious reasons. Politicians love it because you don’t have to make tough budget decisions when your community grows at 4 percent per year. But I suspect the rest of us really don’t want that future. Yet most people seem resigned to its inevitability.

    Yes, slowing growth will have other consequences, making housing more expensive and maybe making it harder for our children to stay in the community. But face it: a day will come when we will be forced to limit growth. Why not stop the growth at a size that we prefer, rather than at a size that sucks?

  • Not_So_Much March 29, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Well said, thank you.

  • flicker March 29, 2018 at 9:03 am

    The water district and local officials don’t want to allow us to have a vote because we might reject this pipeline boondoggle. I agree with Howard that our quality of life will be severely adversely affected by massive expansion of our population. Already we have bad traffic congestion on River Road being made worse by rapid building to the south. And we have another proposed development south to include thousands of additional homes and a LAKE??? But don’t worry. By twisted logic building that lake will actually SAVE water because they could instead put houses there that use even more water. By that logic we could solve our water problem by building a giant lake around St George instead of building houses. Obfuscation seems to be the continued approach of our water district. Let us have realistic numbers, and LET US VOTE ON THE PIPELINE.

  • Gary March 29, 2018 at 9:07 am

    Sierer is right on with this comment. This city doesn’t know how to say no to anyone with the last name “DEVELOPER.” Growth is OK but must be controlled right now there is no control, just build, build, build.

  • ladybugavenger March 29, 2018 at 9:17 am

    The streets there are not equipped for more people. More people=More accidents. More accidents=Higher insurance rates.

    It’s a win for the insurance companies and developers but a loss for the community.

    Welcome to higher Cost of living, higher insurance rates, and low pay. Y’all need to move to the middle states before the cost of living doubles out here. Take your money out of Utah and run as fast as you can.

  • asianspa March 29, 2018 at 9:56 am

    45% of people within Washington County qualify for some form of public assistance. Water is not the only factor that should really tell these crony clowns that we lack what we need for QUALITY growth. 45% poor and working poor, a have and have not local economy FANTASTIC,… This is not a sobering statistic but a downright abomination and a disaster that should be treated exactly as that. Every City Council should stop everything and put together an economic emergency plan that will stop the gross neglect of the economic future. It is time for people to reevaluate all the so called “Theory” they think they learned from textbooks that seem to promote that all growth is good growth and that all jobs are good jobs. Enough incentivizing wage slave warehouse plantations on the backs of the naive workers that come here from every small dump down in Utah thinking they have found a future, they did find a future … a future of multigenerational poverty.

    No more catering to developers and big box warehouse pushing Chinese Childslave labor promoting corporations. If we are going to promote growth… lets grow with CAREER level employment. There will never be a push for that because our leaders only think about and shiver in fear of themselves and the corporations they represent having to pay their labor 1 whopping extra dollar an hour more. Do you think IHC , Wal Mart, the school district will ever step to plate and lead a solid wage push? Why should they when we got so many people that rush into marriage, making babies, and then quickly sign up for 3 jobs thinking they can substain it over 40+ years. We are so dumbed down…

    • comments March 29, 2018 at 12:02 pm

      very well said. what we have here is like a goldrush economy, boom and bust.

  • Walter1 March 29, 2018 at 11:02 am

    The problem really isn’t that there is not enough water. The real problem is that greedy developers building too much and the City leaders allowing it. The same severe water overuse that has happened to Tucson, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Palm Springs and the Borrego California areas will certainly happen in Dixie’s near future if the government leaders continue to promote growth at any cost. The proposed pipeline or “The Pipe Dream” might possibly help water shortages in the future but the costs would be astronomical for all of those who will see their water bills skyrocket into absurdity. Growth does not equal quality of life or affordability. All areas have there nature defined growth limits. This is the desert and water is not abundant. Huge growth and expensive pipelines will only worsen the problem. Wake-up time folks! Dixie desperately needs a change in leadership. Make your vote count!

  • DRT March 29, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Well, here it is in a nutshell: “Now that I AM HERE, (moved in from So Calif or elsewhere,) it is time to ban all growth and NOT LET ANYONE ELSE MOVE HERE.”

    I do not want to see this become a major metro area. But I believe that it will happen. Perhaps not in my life time, (at least I hope not,) but still in the foreseeable future.

    The real problem is that there are just to damned many people alive today. (And no, I will NOT volunteer to remove myself from being one of them.)

  • comments March 29, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    I don’t know, Howard, you’re beginning to sound like a progressive/liberal here. Planned growth is most def not one of the trademarks of “free market capitalism”. Unrestricted, money-driven sprawl is what we’re gonna get with our dearly beloved “conservative” political leaders in this area–unregulated and totally money driven. Should gov’t step in and take steps for planned and limited growth, along with water conservation policies?

    I’d say the free markets in this area that are the growth/development greed machine are gonna make this place a not so pleasant place to live within a few years. I’m not sure anything can be done to stop it either. I’m afraid any new politicians voted in will be just as easily bought by developer $$$ as the current crew.

    Just a side note on the pipe. I guess to keep the pipe from becoming infested with the quagga mussels and zebra mussels they plan to pump some kind of mollusk insecticide into the drinking water that goes into the pipe. Someone really needs to investigate this stuff, because the pro-pipe greed crew simply does not care about public health. They are sellouts.

    • bikeandfish March 29, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      I was wondering the same thing about this conservative transgression. Seems an odd stance for anyone that supports free market systems.

      The growth issue is real for this area and its fully coupled with water. Some cities have managed to decouple growth with water usage but it takes serious government influence.

  • beacon March 29, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    You know what I really love about the comments on this opinion piece? Our leaders are trying to convince us that the pols in D.C. are not listening to us. Well, I’ve got knew for our leaders here in Washington County and at the state level, given the citizen comments here, you’re not listening to us either. So, don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes with all this rhetoric about how bad D.C. is when we are living with leaders who are forging ahead with a project that the majority of people I hear and read don’t want!

  • Carpe Diem March 29, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    If you want to find your way to California, just drive south on I-15 for 6 hours and be ready for crime, congestion, and a lower quality of life.

    • mesaman March 29, 2018 at 8:37 pm

      Or stick around here for another year or two and watch the problems ingression is causing. We are experiencing a lower quality of life in a city that can’t manage the growth that is already occurring.

  • PlanetU March 29, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    I moved here from So. CA 25 years ago and do you think I I said to myself, “I hope they build thousands more homes, and hopefully there’s lots of traffic congestion and carving up the desert?” I moved here for peace, quiet, lack of crime, little traffic…….

  • Mike P March 30, 2018 at 9:51 am

    But hey ! with all the new people coming in, look at all the new Morman Churches you can build.

  • Scott March 30, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Well said, Howard. Local leaders are unwilling to preserve the character of St. George. Like one commenter said, why not put conservation policies into place now, before St. George looks like Las Vegas?

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