Despite recent population projections that show growth has slowed, the state is still pushing ahead with the Lake Powell Pipeline studies. The Utah Division of Water Resources Draft Study Reports
and Preliminary Licensing Proposal (PLP) for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project (FERC Project No. 12966) on December 1, 2015.
The public and the federal agencies have 90 days to comment on the studies. Followed by a 60 day window for revisions, after the PLP is submitted. The PLP and draft study reports will be updated during this period based on new available information, feedback from federal agencies and input from the public. The PLP is not a finalized document. The finalized PLP will eventually become part of Exhibit E. within the License Application scheduled to be filed in late April. The application will include all of the required final study reports. After the April License Application filing and agency evaluation, it is anticipated that FERC will manage an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process according to regulations outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Interested parties will have an opportunity to provide feedback throughout the EIS.
Despite the fact that the DWR has spent 8 years and $27 million of taxpayer money on these studies, there are important questions that are not being answered:
1. Why are the DWR and the Washington County Water Conservancy District still pursing the Pipeline based on water needs projections a state audit has determined are seriously flawed?
2. What is the total cost of the Pipeline, including financing, operations and maintenance costs?
3. What is the repayment plan?
4. How much will Washington County residents see their costs increase for water rates, property taxes and new construction impact fees?
5. What are the alternatives to the Pipeline that are less risky and less expensive?
6. If the current mega-drought continues, will there be adequate water to fill the Pipeline?
CDF’s latest press release on project.
In 2017 FERC will start a process of an Environmental Impact Statement. If the project
EIS is approved with a Record of Decision
Finalization of design
Pipeline construction starts, will take at least 4 years to complete
Water deliveries expected to begin within this time frame
The Lake Powell Pipeline project spans 139 miles and would pump approximately 86,000 acre feet of water from Lake Powell to Washington and Kane Counties. The current cost estimates in the study reports for the project range from $1.4 to $2.4 billion. The district is also planning on doing a pump storage project that could cost $3 billion more. The entire repayment burden will fall on the shoulders of Washington and Kane County residents. The Washington County Water District keeps pushing for this project despite the apparent lack of real need. Washington County continues to be the west’s most wasteful water user and can do far more to conserve and live sustainably in the desert.
The discussion about the Lake Powell Pipeline must center on its high cost and actual need for the project by 2024. Initial project costs were estimated at $250 million and have now skyrocketed to over $1 billion plus interest and future maintenance. Our small communities cannot afford the Pipeline. The citizens of Washington County have a right to know how much they will pay in higher impact fees, surcharges, and taxes for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. Yet, in the eight year $27 million study, these questions are not answered. They have also failed to explain how the Water District will pay the double digit million dollar annual bond payments. The legislature has not been willing to fund the construction of the project because it is uncertain how the bonds will be repayed.
How Will Washington County Pay?
Under the current plan, every family or business that buys a building permit would pay for the Pipeline through impact fees. The water district assumes growth and impact fees will pay all the costs. However, growth is not projected to grow as fast as they had anticipated. To cover any shortfall in impact fees, the Water District has also imposed a Water Development Surcharge ($1.75 per month) on all residents of cities that signed their Regional Pipeline Agreement. This surcharge can be increased at any time to protect the district’s bond rating. We also pay for water in our utility bills and pay again in our property taxes. The debt will fall on all residents to pay for the Lake Powell Pipeline.
Supply uncertainty arises largely from boom and bust cycles of population growth. The financial risks associated with these forecasts are greater if a single large project is built. The current approach to the Pipeline project could unduly commit residents to high repayment obligations if demand or costs are very different than projected.
Bad Data used for Pipeline Justifications
The Water District’s forecast for water demand is artificially high. Their estimates incorporate unrealistic population forecasts, outdated water use data, and unreasonably low estimates of and costs and future water conservation to justify the need for the Pipeline.
Creating a standard to collect accurate baseline data of water use and supply is critical to developing future water demand projections and this has not been done. The Utah Division of Water Resources’ reports show there is more water in Washington County than the Water District identifies: more agricultural water, more water rights held by private land-owners, more water yield of existing water projects. Other options for future supply include: common sense cheaper alternatives such as, water pricing, water budget rates, metering all water use, landscape ordinances more agricultural water, more reuse, more yield out of existing projects. using more recycled water, treating ground water and storm water capture.
An Unreliable Water Resource
Depending on the diminishing Colorado River for future water supply is unsustainable. Recent reports from the Bureau of Reclamation show that the river is over allocated and flows will continue to decrease. The average demand already outstrips average supplies. Read more on the Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study
. Investing billions of dollars into a project that may not produce water in the future is a financial risk not worth taking. Using water more efficiently and Water Conservation measures are the least expensive option.
A less costly, practicable, achievable alternative should be studied in the EIS to meet current and future water supply demand and unfortunately they are not. Water efficiency measures and conservation reductions should be implemented across all sectors including residential indoor and outdoor use, commercial, industrial, secondary, agriculture, and institutional water use.
A solution is for communities to start a water budget
that has worked in other communities to reduce water use dramatically. We held a water sustainability workshop in October on how to create a water budget and read our information here.Water Workshop
Washington County has some of the highest per capita use and the lowest prices for the water in the west. CDF believes a higher priority should be on collecting accurate water use and supply data, becoming efficient in our water use first, boosting local water supplies, increasing conservation, creating pricing strategies, and reuse that could result in significant cost savings and provide enough water for growth. CDF is not anti-growth; we are for fiscal responsibility and growing smarter without burdening the county with massive debt it can’t afford.
Southwest Utah is blessed with many sources of local water that can be developed incrementally as needed, at a fraction of the cost of the Pipeline. We should be pursuing a strategy of using accurate data and making our area more self-reliant by reducing water demand and developing new and unused water resources locally.
These actions could contribute to a more reliable water supplies. Local water sources will deliver southern Utah’s future afford-ably and reliably, without burdening present and future generations with a massive debt and a water supply vulnerable to drought, litigation, political conflict, controversy, and uncertainty.