Letter to the Editor: Reclaiming wastewater not necessarily the answer to Washington County’s water future

Stock image | Photo by zms/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — Andrew Kramer of Ivins, in an opinion piece published by St. George News Jan. 15, writes that reclaimed sewage and conservation are better answers to future water shortages than building the Lake Powell Pipeline. He makes several cogent points that may be worth considering under any circumstances but his position is weakened by several errors in fact.

Water that would be moved from Lake Powell to Washington County is not “Lower Basin water” as he states. The lower basin states — New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California — have no more say in what Utah does with its water than Utahans have to tell California to stop growing alfalfa. This error in fact originally appeared in an Op-Ed piece in the Las Vegas Review Journal and went unchallenged. Mr. Kramer repeats it here.  This error in fact has now appeared in two legitimate news outlets so it must be true – except it is self-referential and not true. Water from Lake Powell used by Utah is not a transfer from the lower basin to the upper basin.

He states that treated wastewater is “thrown away” into the Virgin River after a single use. Well, that sentence is an oxymoron. The treated water gets a return credit for Utah in the allocation of Colorado River water (Virgin River water flows to the Colorado) and is later used again by downstream users.

The costs associated with reclaiming sewage to drinking-water standards are not low and the water is not served directly to consumers. His illustration of Orange County’s system in California is an apt one. That county’s Water Factory 21, operational for more than three decades and expanded over the years, is a great project that has reduced Orange County’s reliance on more expensive water imported from the Colorado and from Northern California. As in every other application, however, the water is pumped into the local aquifer where it mingles with native groundwater and injected imported water before it is later pumped back up for delivery to consumers. The treatment, the pumping in, the pumping out, the maintenance — the infrastructure is not cheap by any means.

The argument that federal and/or state grants make such projects less expensive has always troubled me. The source of funds for such grants or loans is us. This is not free money.

As a former water agency executive and Colorado River negotiator from Southern California I have not yet formed an opinion about the LPP. What I do know is that when I moved to St. George about 20 years ago, those who came before invested in a water system that supplied me with water. Now, I feel a sense of obligation to those who will come after us — and they will come.

So let’s find the best way — or the best ways — to ensure a stable and reliable supply of water at a reasonable cost for the future. We need additional conversations and better information from all concerned. Above all, let’s make decisions based on facts with an eye on the environment.

Submitted by JAY MALINOWSKI, St. George.

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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