ENVIRONMENT

Lake Powell Pipeline opponents urge cancellation of the project

Dec 20, 2023, 2:00 PM

The Wahweap Marina and parts of Lake Powell in Arizona, foreground, and Utah, background, are pictu...

The Wahweap Marina and parts of Lake Powell in Arizona, foreground, and Utah, background, are pictured on Monday, July 18, 2022. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

PAGE, Ariz. — Colorado River Basin conservation groups have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior urging it to cancel the Lake Powell Pipeline project that’s been in the works since 2006.

The conservation groups said the Washington County Water District’s 20-year water plan demonstrates that the county does not need the water. 

In the letter, the groups also said that “a number of recent hydrological, environmental, and political issues impacting the Colorado River Basin have introduced uncertainty regarding the timing and yield of that project.”

Additionally, the groups said the new issues have prompted water officials to evaluate other options. 

How the Pipeline work would work

According to the United States Bureau of Reclamation website, the Lake Powell Pipeline would begin at Lake Powell in Page, Arizona. The pipeline would end at Sand Hollow Reservoir in St. George, Utah.

It is intended to bring additional water supply to Washington County, Utah. 

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, Lake Powell’s water levels fell to a record low in 2023. That level rebounded later, however, NASA said that drought is still an issue.  

Groups question Washington County’s needs based on population, water usage

The letter compared Washington County, Utah to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona. Their comparison found that Albuquerque and Tucson used about 100,000 acre-feet of water to sustain populations of about 700,00.

In contrast, Washington County used the same amount of water to sustain a population of only 180,000. 

“Given that the project sponsor no longer believes the project is necessary for its water future, there is no longer a purpose or need for this project,” said the conservation groups. 

Additionally, the conservation groups allege that Washington County’s water usage is high. They said that a 2020 draft of an environmental impact statement showed a single Washington County resident uses 306 gallons of water per day. 

In comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency said the average American uses 82 gallons of water per day. 

KSL.com reported that Utah’s cities have the lowest excessive water use rate in comparison to surrounding states. The letter urged Washington County to raise excessive use rates to curb overuse. 

Lack of surplus water

The Washington Post reported that the reservoirs in the basin fell to “dangerously low levels.” As a result, the Biden administration called for reductions in water usage. 

According to the letter, water flow has dropped by 20% in the Colorado River Basin since 2000. Scientists believe that there could be a 25-40% decline in Colorado River Basin water levels. 

“Approving additional water diversions in this era of flow declines is laden with risks, which have painful consequences to millions of people across the Basin,” the conservation groups wrote in the letter requesting that the project be canceled.

Water rights of indigenous populations

Many of the 40 million people who live in the Colorado River Basin are indigenous to the region.  

The indigenous groups that call the basin home have “repeatedly indicated” their rights to 20-25% of the water in the Colorado River Basin, according to the authors of the letter. 

However, PBS reported that while the indigenous groups have rights to nearly a quarter of the water, the rights are just “paper rights.” Still, according to the PBS story, water has been stolen from indigenous groups on multiple occasions throughout history. 

“And their water rights should be satisfied and/or fully addressed before the Bureau entertains new water diversions that further threaten U.S. treaty obligations,” the conservation groups said in their letter.

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Lake Powell Pipeline opponents urge cancellation of the project