Despite recent population projections that show the Lake Powell Pipeline (Pipeline) is not needed for 10-30 years, the state is pushing ahead with the Lake Powell Pipeline studies. These studies so far have cost Utah taxpayers $24.7 million dollars. The Utah Division of Water Resources and the Washington County Water Conservancy District are hoping for growth to return to pre-recession levels that would revive the need for the Pipeline.
During this phase of the project the Utah Division Water Resources evaluated everyone’s comments on the 23 draft study reports (bullets below) and will incorporate them into the final study reports. The final study reports will include the new lower Governor Office Planning Budget’s 2012 final population projections released in January 2013, the Utah Governor’s revised water conservation goal of 25% by 2025 instead of by the year 2050, adding natural gas among other issues.
Once all the study reports are complete they will file an application for a Hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and there will be a 90 day comment period for public comment. They estimate filing the application early 2015. This will be followed by FERC preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and they will use the final study reports to make their decision. In the EIS process the BLM approves the right of way for the pipeline; FERC approves generating power in the pipeline; the Bureau of Reclamation approves the use of water rights among many other agencies approvals. The EIS must be completed and approved prior to construction. CDF will let you know when you can comment.
Early 2015 Apply for preliminary Hydopower license with FERC
3 months following application: 90 day public comment period
6 months following application: Prepare and file final Hydropower license application with FERC
Early 2017 FERC will start a 2 year process of an Environmental Impact Statement
The EIS is approved -Record of Decision and permits
Early 2019 Finalization of design
2020 Pipeline construction starts, will take at least 4 years to complete
2025-2030 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 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 cost and actual need for the project by 2020. Local citizens and future generations will bear the cost of this multi- billion government project. Initial project costs were estimated at $250 million and have now skyrocketed to over $2 billion. 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 six year $24 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 when current annual water sales revenues total approximately only $6 million. The legislature has not been willing to fund the project yet because it is uncertain how the bond payments will be made.
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.
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 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 Resource’s 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: using more recycled water, treating ground water and storm water capture.
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. Water Conservation is the Least Expensive Option
A less costly, practicable, achievable alternative should be studied to meet current and future water supply demand. Water conservation reductions should be implemented across all sectors including residential indoor and outdoor use, commercial, industrial, secondary, agriculture, and institutional water use.
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 placed on boosting local water supplies, increased conservation, pricing strategies, efficiency, 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.
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 more reliable water supplies. Local water sources will deliver southern Utah’s future afford-ably and reliably, without burdening future generations with a massive debt and a water supply vulnerable to drought, litigation, political conflict, controversy, and uncertainty.