OPINION — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – or FERC – should withdraw as the National Environmental Policy Act lead agency for preparing the Lake Powell Pipeline draft environmental impact statement.
FERC properly determined in its Sept. 20, 2018, decision denying Utah’s petition that FERC’s legal jurisdiction is strictly limited to discrete hydroelectric facilities that might be included in the final pipeline design.
The Lake Powell Pipeline is a proposed water delivery project. Even if hydroelectric generation occurs, this project would still be a net energy consumer. The hydro would only partially offset the energy needed to pump the water over several high ridges. Hydro is an ancillary part of the overall project which part may be discarded if found to not be economically feasible. Therefore, FERC’s jurisdiction is likewise ancillary to the fundamental water delivery purpose and may become moot if the hydro part is abandoned.
The Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation each have much greater relevant jurisdictional authority and institutional expertise. Most of the pipeline’s proposed alternative alignments cross BLM administered lands. Most of the large water projects in the West have used the Bureau of Reclamation’s expertise and involvement during National Environmental Policy Act compliance. Pursuant to the criteria in 40 CFR 1501.5, it is clear that BLM and/or BOR are much more qualified and appropriate to be the lead agency for the pipeline NEPA process.
As a 20-year resident in Washington County, Utah, I oppose the Lake Powell Pipeline, and I know that there are much cheaper and more reliable alternatives. However, most Utah officials are so beholden to developers, land speculators and construction-related businesses that they continue to work in lock-step pushing the pipeline.
These officials purport to be fiscal conservatives who believe in free market economics. But they are obvious hypocrites because they are willing to risk billions of taxpayers’ dollars on the Lake Powell Pipeline boondoggle while improperly subsidizing water districts with property taxes and refusing to establish tiered water pricing to encourage conservation.
The Colorado River is already over-allocated. Massive existing infrastructure and large human populations are already threatened by the potential for drought-related reductions in water deliveries, and there is already increasing demand for this water while the supply keeps decreasing.
Appropriative water law in the West gives preference, and senior water rights, to those entities that divert water earlier in time and put it to a beneficial use. Utah has come too late to this party with its arguable junior water rights. Those rights may look good on paper but they are increasingly likely not to exist most of the time in the real world.
It is doubtful that the gigantic populations and economic interests in Nevada, Arizona and California will remain silent when Utah pursues its dubious junior water right at their expense and when that proposed water diversion is intended for human growth that has not yet occurred and where existing water consumption is needlessly wasteful.
Even as Utah officials refuse to face reality, FERC should recognize the writing on the wall and extricate itself as the Lake Powell Pipeline National Environmental Policy Act lead agency. FERC should have much higher priorities for use of its limited staff and for work that is truly centered on FERC’s statutory jurisdiction and institutional expertise.
Submitted by CAROLYN BORG, St. George, Utah.
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