Water issues reign supreme at Washington County Commission debate

Republican Gil Almquist and Democrat Robert Ford exchange ideas at a debate hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Oct. 17, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Both candidates for seat A on the Washington County Commission care a lot about water, even if they didn’t disagree too much about specific water issues in their debate Wednesday.

Paul Dail, editor in chief of St. George News, moderates the debate between the Washington County Commission candidates in the 2018 election, St. George, Utah, Oct. 17, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

Republican Gil Almquist and Democrat Robert Ford faced off against each other in a debate hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce at Dixie State University. Paul Dail, editor in chief of St. George News, moderated the debate and asked the candidates specific questions about water, transportation, the county jail and growth.

Read more: Election 2018: Candidates hope plans for water, growth will earn them seat on Washington County Commission

One of the first questions in the debate was about how water can continue to provide for the rapid growth in Washington County. Ford said water conservancy is one of the biggest ways Washington County can prepare for the growth, and there are significant improvements the county can make in conserving water.

Almquist agreed that there are improvements that can be made in conservation, but he said more water sources will have to be added to provide a backup in case the current water sources are not enough someday.

“The only reason we’ve been labeled as using so much water in the county is because the ones before us were so good about getting it to us,” Almquist said. “Conservation alone is not going to get us through a thriving, growing community.”

Robert Ford shares his goals if elected to the Washington County Commission at a debate in St. George, Utah, Oct. 17, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

When asked specifically about the Lake Powell Pipeline, Almquist didn’t explicitly say if he would support the plan to build a 140-mile pipeline to deliver water from Lake Powell to Washington County.

Instead, he said it would be a good idea for officials to continue working on the plans and studies until a final cost of the project is known, at which time a final decision on the pipeline could be made.

He also implored people to stop talking about the cost of the pipeline right now.

“Nobody knows how much it’s going to cost,” Almquist said. “When we get to the point of bidding on it, we’ll know what it costs. Then we can say, ‘Hey, that’s too expensive’ or ‘Wow, we need it – let’s go.'”

Ford agreed with Almquist’s comments about how the final studies on the pipeline need to be completed before he can commit to supporting it or not.

He said the county will need to work on getting better data on the project to find out what the actual cost and impacts will be.

“We’re going to run out of water with the projections we have now, so we’re going to have to find real solutions and work across many agencies, many bureaus and many states to come to a solution,” Ford said. “I don’t want to say no or yes on the pipeline. Let’s get more information and let’s get real about the costs and needs of this county.”

Read more: Southern Utah without Lake Powell Pipeline: Dried-up communities or booming like usual?

A map shows the northern corridor route proposed by Rep. Chris Stewart | Image courtesy of Rep. Stewart’s office, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The plan to build a northern corridor to connect Washington City to the west side of St. George with a road through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area was an issue that the candidates disagreed a little more on.

Almquist said he supports the construction of the northern corridor, but he hopes to work with developers to move the road more north to be farther away than some homes in the Green Spring area of Washington City.

After briefly explaining his position on the northern corridor at the debate, Almquist used the rest of his time in the segment to talk more about water from Lake Powell.

The northern corridor may reduce the travel time between Ivins and Washington City, but it’s not worth the cost to the environment to build it, Ford said.

His plan to fix the transportation issues will include expanding the Southern Parkway between Hurricane and the southern end of St. George so people can more easily travel around the city.

“The northern corridor, where it’s proposed right now, doesn’t really solve the transportation issue, but it cuts up a very beautiful natural resource area that we also need for people and for biological regions,” Ford said.

Read more: Of transportation and tortoises: Stewart’s northern corridor bill heard in congressional committee

Ford shared his plan, if elected, to change the Washington County Commission from having three members to a five-person board to better represent smaller communities in the county like Rockville, where Ford lives. He also spoke about his goals to add affordable housing options in the county and entice technology companies to place their roots in southwestern Utah with incentives.

Gil Almquist shares his goals if elected to the Washington County Commission at a debate in St. George, Utah, Oct. 17, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

“I may be a Democrat, but I’m a conservative Democrat who believes in being frugal,” Ford said. “Unless we can pay for things, and we have economic growth that is balanced, we’re not going to solve the other issues that we have, whether it be water, homelessness or health care.”

Almquist disagreed with Ford’s plan to provide incentives for large companies to come to Washington County. He said he’s a strong believer in the free market that can grow and flourish without interference from the government.

“I would believe that the best thing we can do for growth in our area is with proper infrastructure and planning, which cities and counties can do, the rest of that free market system works just fine as it has in this country for almost 300 years,” Almquist said.

Voters in Washington County have the choice between Ford and Almquist to take over for commission chairman Zachary Renstrom.

Ballots in the county have already been mailed out and are due on election day Nov. 6.

For other Election 2018 stories, click here.

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

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

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9 Comments

  • Carpe Diem October 17, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    The Pipeline is going to cost only a $Gazillion dollar$. Hey, let’s go!

    • KR567 October 18, 2018 at 5:44 am

      no problem paying for it, it’s nothing that another 10 cents a gallon gas tax can’t handle

  • iceplant October 17, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    But… but… but… they gotta have that water park in Washington. And that HUGE development off of Southern Parkway with not one but TWO lakes that will do nothing but evaporate into the desert air!!! MY LAKES MY LAKES!!!!

  • Redbud October 17, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Build that pipe! Build that pipe!

  • utahdiablo October 17, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    The problem has and will always be that Voters won’t bother to Vote….even with the damn ballot being mailed to your home……get involved or don’t complain about the endless growth here in good ol’ southern Utah

  • Wee October 18, 2018 at 9:13 am

    Spencer, What Gil said, Was he was for building the Lake Powell Pipeline and keeping up with the future growth and didn’t want to hear about the cost about building it anymore. The thing is, whether it’s 1.2 Billion or 2.1 Billion or more? to just build it, there’s always an additional cost to finance it Which is estimated to be about 4 to 6 billion, for a total cost of 8+ billion and that doesn’t even raise a concern to you? It does me. Cause If I can’t afford it I don’t buy it. and as far as the Northern corridor, Gil had very little to offer, Spencer I don’t know where you were sitting but I heard it different and I was up front. Please read David DeMilles article from the Spectrum for additional material to use. What we don’t need is another GOOD Ole’ BOY involved in more decesion making around here. Vote For FORD!

  • Scott October 18, 2018 at 10:12 am

    I already voted for Ford. Almquist wants to double down on the congestion and decay of our natural spaces.

  • Carpe Diem October 18, 2018 at 11:31 am

    One fact that has always impressed me about Utah, and a factor in moving here, was State fiscal conservatism. Low sales tax too – abut 5.85 at the time, when CA was about 7.5%. This going back 25 years.

    The State runs in the black, as in “Utah ends the fiscal year with a $265 million surplus. Utah state government ended the fiscal year with some $265 million in surplus, elected leaders announced Wednesday.” 17 hours ago

    Compared to California: “Despite Gov. Jerry Brown touting surpluses, California faces a $269.9 billion shortfall, which equates to a $22,000 burden for every taxpayer,” the group concluded, nothing that California only has on hand $100 billion in assets to cover bills of $369.9 billion. PUBLISHED: October 4, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    I tend to think the powers that be will choke when they get the updated bid price tag. Initial guestimates were so low and off the mark they wont even be spoken of again.

  • beacon October 19, 2018 at 11:32 am

    So Almquist implored people to stop talking about the cost of the pipeline right now. That’s the problem. People need to be concerned about the cost! A similar though not exactly the same pipeline in Nevada has been shown via an independent study to cost $15B. If Almquist and others think that this one won’t be $3B or more (not counting interest on loans), they are kidding themselves. Add to that the fact that they and other supporters says we must do it for our kids and grandkids. Again, they are kidding themselves. Maybe their kids and grandkids will be able to afford to live here because they have relatives with money to help them pay for homes but many others will not. We are pricing many kids and grandkids out of this area. Washington County has some of the highest inter-generational poverty rates and future exposure in the state. Unaffordable housing is already a problem. Adding impact fees to homes to help pay for an unnecessary pipeline when we have sufficient local water resources, if managed well, to support our anticipated growth is crazy and shows that leaders are only thinking about themselves and their legacy. I fear many want to have their names associated with the LPP so it will be their legacy. Well, if the projected diminished flows in the Colorado River reduce Utah’s 23% of whatever’s available to the state in the Upper Colorado River Basin make the LPP water right a problem due to other senior rights, what kinds of legacy will that be? An albatross legacy for sure.

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