OPINION — As demonstrated by many thousands of public comments, there is overwhelming opposition to the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. All of the other Colorado River Compact states got the review process put on hold until consensus can be reached on Colorado River water management issues. Prolonged drought has Lake Powell and Lake Mead at historically low levels and caused reductions in some water deliveries as well as economic hardship.
Despite these facts, Mike Noel and the local Kane and Washington County water districts have not learned from nor been deterred by them — quite the opposite. They are now pushing another water wasting “LPP mini me” boondoggle: the proposed Cove Reservoir Project.
Mostly with federal funding, and needing Bureau of Land Management borrow pits, this project would construct a new dam and reservoir. Virgin River water would be diverted before it flows through a Zion National Park “wild river” segment. This water would be held in the new reservoir primarily to increase summer alfalfa farming. Mike Noel acknowledged at a Zoom meeting that this water may later be sold for more lucrative municipal and industrial uses.
Alfalfa farming is a known highly wasteful use of water, particularly during the hot summer months. Project proponents say that this new reservoir would provide other alleged benefits for recreation, hydropower and wildlife conservation. But these benefits are highly speculative, not guaranteed and may not be realized.
The only certainty is that federal taxpayers would be subsidizing an arguably wasteful and unnecessary water project to increase private profits for some water rights holders.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is the lead federal agency for the project’s environmental analysis, with the Bureau of Land Management Kanab Field Office and Zion National Park as cooperating agencies. The Natural Resources Conservation Service released a deeply flawed environmental assessment with a public comment period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has kept this low-profile and likely not notified many potentially interested stakeholders. This stealth approach is sadly common in Utah where agencies often fail to “walk their talk” on wanting genuine public notice and input. Indeed, it appears that The Natural Resources Conservation Service and project proponents are attempting to slip this project “under the radar” to avoid potential controversy and opposition.
This type of agency arrogance did not help the Lake Powell Pipeline, and it should not help this new proposed project.
The Virgin River is part of the lower basin within the Colorado River watershed and subject to the Colorado River Compact. If not diverted for the new reservoir, the Virgin River water would flow down the river to nourish aquatic and riparian habitats and end up in Lake Mead. The water would then be available to help the other Lower Basin Compact states (Arizona, Nevada and California) cope with existing shortages and perhaps to generate hydroelectric power at Hoover Dam.
As water supplies dwindle due to drought while public demands increase, water is recognized as an increasingly precious and valuable resource. And there is a growing realization that you cannot drink paper; meaning that many water rights are overallocated and not backed by actual water. Most western states understand and respect this new reality, and are prudently moving to accelerate their water conservation and reclamation efforts.
Unfortunately, Utah officials seem stuck in the past and unable to adapt. This stubborn attitude will increasingly isolate Utah among the other western states, and likely backfire when tough regional water management decisions are made.
For more information, visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.
If the Natural Resources Conservation Service finalizes their biased environmental analysis and approves this project, there remains hope that the project can still be stopped. The allocation of federal funding to implement the project would be subject to future conservation service and congressional decisions. In January, the new session of Congress and the Biden administration both begin.
Although the Natural Resources Conservation Service under the Trump Administration supported this project, that can change under the new leadership. However, an informed public actively contacting these new leaders is likely necessary before this change may occur. It is our federal tax dollars, our federal lands and our Virgin River that are all at stake. If you care, and I hope you do, please get involved to help stop this wasteful boondoggle.
Submitted by RICHARD SPOTTS, St. George.
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