OPINION — From the time pioneers entered Washington County, water has been the biggest concern for local residents. My hometown of Hurricane was settled because farms that were built close to the Virgin River were continually flooded and destroyed by raging storm waters. The 5-mile canal that brought water to the Hurricane Valley allowed farming safely above the river, but it was a daunting undertaking that required unimaginable vision and determination.
Similar stories could be told about water projects all over Southern Utah. In 2006, the Utah Legislature showed an impressive commitment to Washington and Kane counties by passing the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act with a vote of 96-1. The bill had tremendous support because members of the Legislature understood then, just as we understand now, that water is the most precious resource in our state.
The Utah Board of Water Resources has broad authority to finance, construct and operate large-scale water infrastructure projects. This includes contracting with local and regional water districts to develop the projects. Most communities in Utah have borrowed money from the board to finance a water project. The board has financed more than 1,000 water projects, and all outstanding loans are in the process of repayment.
The LPP is projected to cost between $1.1 and $1.8 billion. Alternatives to the LPP were studied as part of the FERC license application. The option of using Virgin River water and wastewater effluent – treated by reverse osmosis (an expensive process that removes salts) – and eliminating residential outdoor watering with potable (treated) water, was estimated to cost far more than the LPP.
The Washington County Water Conservancy District and Kane County Water Conservancy District have three methods of repaying the state, with interest, for its initial outlay of funds to pay for the project: impact fees, water rates and property taxes. In Washington County, a significant portion of repayment will come from impact fees – one-time fees collected from those who are developing property.
With lower water rates than other western cities, the districts can increase water rates at a measured pace. For example, an increase of $1 per 1,000 gallons, phased in at 10 cents per year over 10 years, translates into $1.57 billion in incremental water rate revenue through 2065 estimated water deliveries by Washington County Water Conservancy District. The current wholesale water rate in Washington County is $1.24 per 1,000 gallons, less than one penny per gallon of water.
A single generation shouldn’t be expected to pay for this water pipeline project. We are benefiting from the investments that our parents and grandparents made in the existing water system. By using bond funding, the cost of LPP will be spread over 50 years or more so that future beneficiaries will share in the investment. Having served my district for the past 17 years, I understand the specific benefits and challenges associated with the LPP. It’s with this responsibility and knowledge that I urge our residents to become informed about all aspects of this critical water supply project.
Submitted by BRAD LAST, Utah State Representative, Hurricane. Last currently serves as chair of the House of Representatives’ Executive Appropriations Committee.
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