SALT LAKE CITY — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Thursday it will only license the hydropower components of the planned Lake Powell Pipeline, clarifying its regulatory oversight of the project.
The commission will remain the lead agency on conducting the environmental review of the 140-mile pipeline that would deliver Utah's unused portion of the Colorado River in Lake Powell to St. George and other communities.
"We’re grateful to have a decision from FERC,” said John Fredell, Lake Powell Pipeline program director. “The decision clarifies the scope of authority with all the involved federal and state agencies and will allow us to expeditiously move this critical project through the environmental review.”
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said the decision is a major setback for the pipeline.
“This is great news for Utah taxpayers because there is an abundance of less-expensive water sources available to Washington County for a small fraction of the pipeline’s cost,” Frankel said. “Perhaps the Division of Water Resources will be forced to acknowledge these alternatives instead of pretending they don’t exist.”
The pipeline would deliver 86,000 acre-feet of water at full capacity to communities in Washington and Kane counties. Its components include five pump stations and seven hydroelectric facilities.
State officials estimate its cost to be between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion, although critics say it will be much higher.
Washington County has 160,000 residents but is projected to exceed 500,000 residents by 2065. State and local water managers say current water supply options are not sufficient to meet projected population increases, although pipeline critic says there are viable, alternatives – including increased water conservation methods.
The state will have to obtain rights of way from multiple federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
State officials said the Thursday decision does not mean they will have to scrap any of the planning and analysis that has gone into the project thus far.