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Feedback sought for controversial Lake Powell Pipeline plan

Comment period ends Tuesday

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(OUTDOORS) Lake Powell Photo by Ray Grass / Deseret Morning News

Lake Powell

Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — A draft document on a controversial pipeline intended to diversify southern Utah’s water supply and provide water at the tap for a growing population into the next 40 years is out for public comment, but time is quickly running out to provide feedback.

The deadline to comment on the draft environmental impact statement on the Lake Powell Pipeline ends Tuesday.

Comments must be provided to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in writing via email, fax or mail. A link for directions on how to submit comments is found at LPP.org

The analysis over the 69-inch pipeline, which critics say is unnecessary and exorbitantly expensive for ratepayers, would be buried underground for 141 miles from Lake Powell to Washington County.

Its estimated cost is between $1.1 billion and $1.9 billion, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources, and after a six-year construction phase, water could be in the pipeline by 2030.

Projections say Washington County’s sole source of water, the Virgin River drainage, will be tapped out by 2060. Population is at 186,600 currently, but it is expected to top 468,000 by four decades from now.

The 86,249 acre-feet destined for the pipeline represents a share of Utah’s unused allocation of water from the Colorado River. Although the water right itself for the point of diversion is along the Green River below Flaming Gorge, the actual diversion of the water would occur along the same system at Lake Powell.

Critics say taking that much water out of the Colorado River drainage is unsustainable in a time of climate change and years of protracted drought that have triggered lower basin states to enact curtailments of the water they get from the river.

But in the overall picture of the Colorado River system, the diversion of this share of Utah’s allocation under the Colorado River Pact is minute, and part of Utah’s rightful share, said Joel Williams, the state manager over the project and the division’s director over the development branch.

Williams said the diversion for the pipeline, when measured against the entire annual average flows, represents about half a percent of the flows and 6% of Utah’s entire share of Colorado River water.

But critics like the Utah Rivers Council point to what it says are wasteful water practices in Washington County and accuses the conservancy district and the state of pursuing a boondoggle of a project that lacks transparency about it how much it costs and how much financial pain it will inflict on ratepayers. They say conservation and development of other water sources in the area could meet those needs, but the draft document rejected those claims including a proposal by one group to eliminate all use of culinary water for outdoors and to take all agricultural water in use.

“Neither the state nor the district wants to be in that position of forcing agriculture out of business,” Williams said.

In one accusation, critics say water rates for users will go up 3,000%. The district countered by saying the cost per thousand gallons of water is sitting at $2.64 right now, and will jump to $3.98 by 2045 — a 51% increase.

Not all the water will hit the pipeline at once, but rather it will be delivered in chunks as Washington County grows, and those ratepayers will help pay for the cost of the pipeline through impact fees on new development.

There are two alternatives explored in the draft document: the Highway option or the Southern option.

Williams said the preferred option is the Southern route because it is least impactful to cultural resources and has fewer environmental consequences.

The draft should be finalized in December, with the Bureau of Reclamation expected to issue a decision in January.