The Lake Powell Pipeline might look like a great idea for southeastern Utah. We’re in the thick of an ongoing drought right now, and some fear losing water in the Virgin River system as climate change progresses. Scientists are now saying that we should probably refer to this drought (1999-present) not as a drought, but as aridification: the long-term progression of increasingly dry conditions. Drought implies the dry spell will soon be over. Climate change suggests otherwise for the Colorado River Basin.
The problem with the Lake Powell Pipeline is that water in the Colorado River is going to diminish as climate change progresses, just like the Virgin River. This is already happening. Since 1999, there has been a 19 percent decrease in Colorado River flow. This is huge; for context, the whole state of Utah only gets about 9 percent. The predictions maintain that we can expect more of this through mid-century, and even more reduction after that.
As such, imagine the mighty Colorado River all divvied up and barely trickling to the sea. The state of Utah is stubbornly adhering to the idea that we legally have a certain amount of water to use from the Colorado. The problem is that these “rights” are based on river flows from the past era, and we haven’t adapted them to the good science that we now have.
In reality, if the Lake Powell Pipeline gets built, it probably won’t be able to pump water for more than a few measly years. It is a waste of money.