UTAH DROUGHT

A pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County is taking shape

Sep 15, 2022, 5:18 PM
powell plane crash...
FILE: Lake Powell on March 27, 2022 in Page, Arizona.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — A plan is moving forward for the state of Utah to build a 140-mile-long pipeline that would pump water from Lake Powell to 13 cities in Washington County.

It was discussed on Thursday during a meeting of the Water Resources Board of the Department of Natural Resources. The state describes the pipeline as part of a long-term water supply plan for southern Utah. The pipeline itself would be buried, the water moved along by five pump stations powered, in part, by six hydroelectric facilities.

Zach Frankel, Executive Director of the Utah Rivers Council, is not on board.

“We can’t pretend like the Lake Powell Pipeline water exists,” Frankel said. “It does not exist.”

Frankel said that a plan like the Lake Powell Pipeline, at a time when the Bureau of Reclamation is asking states to cut the water diversions in the Colorado River by 30%, is unbelievable.

“Utah is blindly ignoring the best interest of its taxpayers by proposing a multi-billion dollar pipeline where no water exists,” Frankel said.

Among the cities that would benefit are St. George, Hurricane, Ivins, and several others in Washington County where growth spurts are happening now or are expected soon. The state says those needs must be addressed.

How will the Lake Powell Pipeline be paid for?

The state said that, in 2020 dollars, the pipeline will cost between $1.3 billion and $2.2 billion. And a law passed in 2006 specified that the state of Utah will foot the bill. That money will come from impact fees, water rates, and property taxes.

“The easiest way to think about financing the Lake Powell Pipeline is just like any other loan,” Frankel said. “It’s just a function of an interest rate and a window of return. 

“All of the costs have to be repaid, and that’s one of the biggest concerns, why we feel like this is such a boondoggle.”

The Utah Rivers Council describes itself as a non-profit research organization that promotes sustainable aquatic ecosystems by protecting Utah’s watersheds.

Does Utah have the right to use the water?

Diverting water from Lake Powell requires permits from at least ten different agencies. But the problem for Frankel isn’t the permitting process, it’s whether Utah has the right to use more water from the Colorado River.

“Utah is overusing its rights to the Colorado River. We are subject to water-sharing agreements that are 100 years old,” he said. “Utah has no right to ignore those agreements unless we want to find ourselves in court.”

On this issue, the state maintains the lower basin states, like California and Arizona, have taken more than their fair share.

On Thursday the water resources board of the Department of Natural Resources extended their contract with a pipeline sub-contractor for another year.

Simone Seikaly contributed to this report.

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