Letters to the Editor: Opinions offered on Lake Powell Pipeline ahead of public comment deadline

Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona, date unspecified | Photo by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay, St. George News

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR With the public comment period for the Lake Powell Pipeline environmental impact statement fast approaching, St. George News has received many letters in support of and against the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. Included in this article are five opinion pieces on the subject offering varying viewpoints on the matter ahead of Tuesday’s public comment deadline.

Colorado River water use and state rights

All Colorado River basin states have the right to develop and use their water, in accordance with the compacts that form the basis for the Law of the River. They can do so whenever in time the need arises.

Utah is entitled to 23% of the water available to the Upper Basin. Unlike the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California), the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah) receive a percent of available water rather than a set acre-foot volume so their water supplies are adjusted based on actual flows. Utah’s annual compact allocation is 1.725 million acre-feet, but its annual reliable supply (or the amount of water available for development after considering climate variability) is approximately 1.4 million acre feet – or, 80% of what was allocated to the state in the compacts.

Utah currently uses less than one million acre-feet of Colorado River water – well under its annual reliable supply. Utah’s rapid population and economic growth has necessitated that the state develops its available water resources. Utah’s development of its currently unused Colorado River water complies with the law and does not jeopardize other state allocations.

For nearly two decades, Utah has studied the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP), a $1.4 billion project that would deliver 6% of its annual reliable supply of river water to the state’s driest and fastest-growing region – Washington County.

Washington County has reduced its per capita use 30% while nearly doubling its population from 2000-2018. Additional conservation reductions are planned. County water use is comparable to other desert communities when calculated using similar methodologies.

The Bureau of Reclamation recently released its draft Environmental Impact Study on the LPP and determined that the project is needed, the water is available and there are few environmental impacts.

Individuals who suggest Colorado River basin states should “challenge” Utah’s use of its water fail to understand the Law of the River, which authorizes each state to develop and use its respective share.

Submitted by DAVID CLARK, Santa Clara. Clark is the former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives and retired senior vice president of international trade and finance for Zions Bank.

Save our beloved Lake Powell and Colorado River

Stop the Lake Powell Pipeline. That’s it. My anger over this deceiving and destructive project needs few words.

How is it our leadership is still actively destroying our limited resources? Water is vital for every person on this planet, and certainly in our arid state of Utah. And yet this destructive and deceiving project, the Lake Powell Pipeline, is still pushing forward despite decreasing Colorado River flows.

Top water executives, the highest-paid government officials in our state according to a KSL Report, continue to present lies and misleading information to the people of Utah. They fear-monger us into believing that we are running out of water. When in reality, 80% of our water is used for agriculture and could be readily available for our growing cities.

But let’s say we believed these overpaid water executives’ propaganda. The construction of the pipeline would divert water from the diminishing flows of the Colorado River, and within a few years, there wouldn’t be enough water to even flow through the pipeline!

The pipeline proponents are telling us that we need it. But if we really are running out of water, why not start to practice even the simplest methods of water conservation? If Utahns simply lowered their water use, our current water supply would be able to support the people for a much longer time without the need for this pipeline.

Lastly, stopping the Lake Powell Pipeline will prevent Utahns from paying for this extremely unnecessary project out of our pockets with taxes! With the current economic recession, likely Depression, I’m personally penny-pinching in every way possible, every day. Why wouldn’t our “conservative” leadership do the same thing with our hard-earned taxes?

In few words, I say: Stop the Lake Powell Pipeline. That’s it.

Submitted by MORGAN PARHAM, Cottonwood Heights.

Twenty years to thoroughly review the Lake Powell Pipeline is long enough

The Lake Powell Pipeline Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is the cumulative result of extensive federal, state and local review and analysis, where all interested parties had ample opportunity to identify issues and information requirements. There have been several opportunities for the public to comment through the various scoping and review processes. The generalized allegation that the extensive process, in particular to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is nothing more than an attempt to delay progress on this critical water supply project 20 years in the making.

NEPA requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the significant environmental consequences of the proposed LPP project, and reasonable alternatives that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint. The NEPA analysis can only assess impacts under the legal parameters currently in existence. Alternatives that are remote, conjectural, or do not meet the purpose or need of the proposed project are eliminated so long as the lead federal agency discusses the reasons for the elimination. In the case of the LPP, the lead federal agency considered and appropriately eliminated two alternatives that would involve a combination of developing scarce surface water and groundwater supplies in the Virgin River Basin, using expensive reverse osmosis treatment of existing low-quality water supplies, drying up agricultural lands for municipal water uses, and implementing extreme conservation in the Washington County Water Conservancy District service area.

It’s taken 20 years of policymaking, planning, engineering, financial and economic analyses and permitting before a single shovel of dirt is turned for the LPP, and the public has been involved in every step along the way. The suggestion that the process has been rushed, or that alternatives have not been thoroughly vetted, is not supported by the facts.

Submitted by GIL ALMQUIST, Washington County Commissioner.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – somebody pays

The Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) is thrusting itself into prominence again with the issuance of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) by the Bureau of Reclamation. The LPP has faded in and out of public notice for a long time, but it has not gone away. Now is the time to assess where we are and where we are going. The financing of the project is faulty and the need is questionable. These problems are compounded by climate change and the present pandemic.

The LPP was initially proposed at just under $1 billion. Estimates are now over $3 billion. How will this be paid for? The true cost can be camouflaged. Economists are fond of saying “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Financing the LPP requires untenable demands on Washington County residents and subsidies by Utah taxpayers.

The LPP Development Act (2006) mandates the entire project cost be repaid to the State of Utah with interest. In 2015 economists from the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and Utah State University conducted an analysis of the repayment obligations of the Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) and residents of Washington County under this law. Some things have changed since that analysis: Kane County dropped out leaving WCWCD as the only participant in the LPP, and power generation from pumped storage has been abandoned as not cost-effective. Nonetheless, the conclusions of the analysis documenting the interrelations of the repayment methods and the requisite debt servicing remain valid. The analysis concluded that unless the District substantially increases water rates, impact fees, and/or other revenues, LPP debt will not be repaid at the end of the 50-­year loan period.

WCWCD is allowed to defer payment until the water is received. Development costs prior to the receipt of the water are fronted by the state. Any servicing of the debt not paid by Washington County will be paid by Utah taxpayers.

In 2016, the Legislature set up a Water Infrastructure Restricted Account for the “development of the State’s undeveloped share of the Bear and Colorado Rivers”, appropriated $5 million to go into the account, and directed a portion of sales tax revenue to go into that account, which currently has nearly $40 million.

Project need is justified by several unreasonable assumptions.

The 2015 Legislative Audit of the Division of Water Resources found that WCWCD underestimated the availability of alternative water sources in Washington County. Higher than projected local availability of water undermines the claims of water need from other sources.

Some conservation is built into WCWCD’s projections, but much more is possible. Washington County’s per capita water consumption substantially exceeds levels in comparable locations. Consumer response to higher prices and impact fees is ignored.

WCWCD assumes that St. George’s rapid population growth will continue, but the growth rate is declining and may decline further because of the pandemic. Washington County is a local hotspot for the virus, and effects of the pandemic are likely to be long-term. The impact on the real estate market has already been substantial.

The availability of water from Lake Powell is uncertain because of earlier erroneous projections exacerbated by climate change, making the decision to invest in Lake Powell water risky at best. If water is not available in Lake Powell, none can be pumped.

The dubious financing of the LPP and the overstated need for the water, exacerbated by climate change and the pandemic, should all lead Utah taxpayers to question it. The DEIS gives us an opportunity.

Submitted by GAIL BLATTENBERGER. Blattenberger is an associate professor emerita from the Economics Department at the University of Utah.

Lake Powell Pipeline needed to meet future water demands and diversify water supply

In the 2006 Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act, the Board of Water Resources was tasked to “construct the project as funded by the Legislature.” The release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a milestone we celebrate. We appreciate the work done by our federal, state and local partners to move this needed water project forward.

Over the years, the board has worked on more than 1,485 water projects throughout the state. We work closely with regional and local water providers to ensure they have the water resources needed to meet future demands in one of the nation’s fastest-growing states.

The Colorado River is a reliable water source in the western United States that serves over 40 million people. Utah has a legal right to use a portion of this water, which we have yet to fully develop. The state is currently using approximately 70% of its annual reliable supply. Further development of this resource in Utah does not jeopardize other Colorado River basin state allocations.

The Lake Powell Pipeline allows us to use 6% of Utah’s annual reliable supply of Colorado River water in the state’s fastest-growing and one of the driest regions – Washington County. This county is projected to grow more than 200% by 2065. Additional water resources are needed to serve this growth. In addition, Washington County is one of the few areas of our state that has a major population center dependent on one water source – the Virgin River. Diversifying and adding reliability to the county’s water resources are primary purposes of the Lake Powell Pipeline.

We’d like to recognize Washington County’s water conservation accomplishments. They were one of the first to adopt a water conservation plan, the first county in the state to meet the governor’s previous statewide water conservation goal to reduce use at least 25% by 2025, and established a desert demonstration garden to provide conservation education to the public. Conservation accompanied with the Lake Powell Pipeline will provide water resources needed to serve current and future Utah residents.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is estimated to cost between $1.1 billion and $1.9 billion (2020 dollars). While this is a significant state investment, the project is economically feasible and Washington County can generate sufficient revenues to repay costs according to two independent studies: the draft EIS and 2019 audit completed by the Utah Office of the Legislative Auditor General.

As a state, we have always planned in advance for essential resources for future populations; that responsibility now falls on us for the Lake Powell Pipeline. We take this responsibility seriously as Utah citizens and members of the Board of Water Resources, which is why we support the Lake Powell Pipeline.


The public comment period for the Lake Powell Pipeline environmental impact statement runs through Tuesday, Sept. 8. Comments can be submitted until then through the following methods:

St. George News thanks the many people who have offered their thoughts on the Lake Powell Pipeline. More information can be found in the related stories below.

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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