Letters to the Editor: Transparency and facts needed before rushing to extreme solution of Lake Powell Pipeline

Lake Powell, Utah, date not specified | Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Following are two letters to the editor submitted to St. George News in response to Washington County Water District General Manager Zachary Renstrom’s Feb. 14 opinion letter on the Lake Powell Pipeline.

Letter to the Editor No. 1: The lack of transparency Mr. Renstrom didn’t mention

The claim that the Lake Powell Pipeline permitting process has been transparent is simply inaccurate and yet another distortion of the truth. The need for this Pipeline continues to be sold through a series of misinformation campaigns, rather than a transparent and public process.

First and foremost, the real cost for the project remains vague despite a 2019 legislative audit estimating the Pipeline cost to be $2.4 billion. Yet, Lake Powell Pipeline proponents continue to deceive the public into believing it’s a $1.4 billion project. This is one of many examples of a large, out-of-control government agency distorting the truth as it seeks billions of taxpayer dollars.

The Washington County Water District claimed the $2-3 billion project could be repaid with a 28-cent increase in water rates for Washington County residents. Yet, more than 20 PhD economists refuted that statement and found that a 520% increase in water rates is necessary in Washington County. The 2019 audit confirmed that water rates must increase at least 360% alongside massive increases in property taxes and impact fees in Washington County.

View of Lake Powell and its surrounding towering sandstone from the Wahweap Viewpoint, Lake Powell, Arizona, Jan. 2, 2018 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

Legislative auditors were barred from asking whether the pipeline was needed because it was deemed “too political.” The truth is Washington County’s current water supply could support a tripled population size. This has been documented numerous times, but the district continues to ignore this fact in their quest for billions of dollars. The fact that the water district has continuously refused to be honest about the current water supply demonstrates both an outrageous lack of transparency and basic compassion for Washington County residents.

According to Lake Powell Pipeline planning documents, Washington County’s water use is over 300 gallons/person/day. Yet, when water conservation bills come up at the statehouse, lobbyists for the water district claim that local water use is half that amount. This deceptive use of two sets of numbers is blatantly misleading and disingenuous.

The water district’s lobbyists have been working hard to kill water conservation bills at the statehouse for years. This year, they have stopped H.B. 40 after killing H.B. 143 last legislative session. This tax-and-spend agency wants to build the most expensive water delivery system in the state. They continue to avoid transparent conversations about water rate increases, property tax increases and even alternative water sources through water conservation programs and technologies.

It is disappointing that Renstrom is continuing the misinformation campaign his predecessor started. If the Washington County Water District is truly transparent, the agency should share with us the last three years of communications with their lobbyists about the water conservation bills they have killed. Start with H.B. 40 from the current 2020 legislative session and include H.B. 143 form the previous 2019 legislative session. We have submitted a GRAMA request for these records and this information would help ensure that Washington County residents are truly informed and part of a real transparent process about how this unnecessary, expensive and destructive project will affect their daily lives and the lives of generations to come.

Submitted by REBECCA BAUER, grassroots organizer, Utah Rivers Council.

Letter to the Editor No. 2: Elusive facts about the Lake Powell Pipeline

Twenty years ago, members of our state Legislature and Division of Water Resources proposed that the citizens of Washington County buy the Lake Powell Pipeline, and our elected officials agreed.

Tom Butine, board president of Conserve Southwest Utah. Butine is the author of a letter to the editor submitted to St. George News. | Photo courtesy of Tum Butine, St. George News

Their proposal was based on assumptions and poor data (ref 2015 legislative audit) that are not factual. A fact, by definition, must be verified to be true. The LPP is a huge public works project concerning a critical resource. Decisions about it should be based on publicly, openly, transparently verified facts, but this is not the case.

I know, like and respect many of our state and local elected officials and water agency managers, and this issue is a frequent discussion topic between us. Yet, they continue to market the LPP without facts. We, as citizens, have the responsibility to correct and clarify points of fact, such as these taken from a Feb. 14 St George News opinion piece.

Point 1: The review process for the LPP is “very public, open and transparent” and “the LPP is the state’s most studied and reviewed project.”

These statements are misleading; the reviews allow only for issues to be raised, not for them to be resolved or even discussed. It doesn’t matter how many commenting opportunities are offered, they are meaningless without determining facts about key points, such as the declining Colorado River flows, the LPP’s water right, our wasteful water use, practical/necessary water use objectives and plans for achieving them.

Point 2: “We have considered the environmental and social impacts of extreme conservation, the costs of reverse osmosis and the economic consequences of having an inadequate water supply.”

Views from the pool at the Lake Powell Resort at Wahweap Marina, Page, Arizona, June 19, 2015 | File photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

We should not be considering extreme conservation or expensive reverse osmosis; we should be considering the most practical, low-risk, low-cost, high-yield, common-place water conservation methods, such as meaningfully-tiered water rates and building codes encouraging conservation. Why are these not considered? Yes, an inadequate water supply has economic consequences.  Our economy and growth must be scaled to our realistic water supply, based on facts. Every supply has limits, costs and risks. Let’s verify the facts and plan based on facts rather than fictions and hopes.

Point 3: “The Lake Powell Pipeline is the only option that allows Washington County to access a reliable water source — the Colorado River” and “we need the water.”

This incorrectly implies we don’t have a reliable water source. The Virgin and Colorado rivers have different limits and risks. Let’s determine them! It does no good to say we need more water if it does not exist. The whole Colorado watershed, including the Virgin, is getting hotter and drier. We control our use of the Virgin watershed. We cannot control our use of the Colorado; it’s controlled by evolving (or nonexistent) agreements with other states and with the rest of Utah. Utah’s allocation of the Colorado will decrease, the LPP water right is not guaranteed, there is no plan if senior rights consume the allocation, yet the huge cost must be paid even if it carries no water.

Instead of saying “we need more water,” we should recognize facts. We need to conserve and effectively manage our local water and grow more wisely. We need an open, honest, transparent, verification of facts and analysis of options, and a strategic plan that minimizes risk and costs. Our water agencies and elected officials are not supporting these needs. Why not implement low-risk, low-cost, practical water conservation and management solutions first and consider the high-risk, high-cost, extreme solution (the LPP) only when the facts are known? Our water decision-makers appear to prefer we take the risk and pay the cost of extreme solution first.

Let’s take a sensible, practical path to reduce risk and economic impact, focus on water conservation and improved management now, become exemplary stewards of our local water supply and consider the Lake Powell Pipeline only after the risks of the water right and the climate impacts to the Colorado River are better known, and after we’ve grown to the point where the huge interest burden can be reduced by faster loan repayment. Our water agencies and elected officials have no response to this proposal. We need an open, transparent, public finding of facts.

Submitted by TOM BUTINE, board president of Conserve Southwest Utah. Butine is a retired aerospace systems engineer-scientist and program manager.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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