Interior official: Federal funds ‘coming at just the right time’ to help Utah drought
Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau toured water pipeline project in Utah County
Standing at the foot of the southern Wasatch Mountains in Spanish Fork, Tommy Beaudreau, deputy secretary of the Interior, said the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure package will make Utah more drought resilient, while easing tensions between Western states and Washington, D.C.
Less than a mile down the road, construction crews worked to install two massive pipelines — one that will replace the Salem Canal and one that is the final piece of a lengthy project to divert a portion of the state’s Colorado River allotment to southern Utah County.
And about 15 miles north, a constant stream of trucks hummed along the shore of Utah Lake as part of the Provo River Delta Restoration Project, where crews are working to build ponds, wetlands and delta area river channels.
The remediation effort has played a role in the resurgence of the June sucker, a unique fish native to Utah that was federally delisted about a year ago, moving from endangered to threatened.
Both projects recently received a $50 million boost from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill — $40 million for Utah Lake System water delivery pipelines, with the remaining going to the Provo River project.
“Nobody’s feeling the pressure more than Utah and the valley here because of drought right now. So the timing, to be able to actually get these projects across the finish line, couldn't be more urgent or more critical,” Beaudreau said with a sunny but hazy backdrop heading West toward the southern tip of Utah Lake.
Beaudreau spoke just after touring the pipeline construction site, which he said upon completion will “provide clean reliable drinking water to over 100,000 Utah residents.”
The water’s journey starts in the High Uinta Mountains, where it empties into Strawberry Reservoir, then flows down through Diamond Fork Canyon into Spanish Fork Canyon. A system of pipelines will then take the water along U.S. 6 where it will eventually come through the taps of residents in the southern part of Utah County.
“This little piece all on its own doesn't look like much, doesn't seem like it will accomplish a lot, but in reality it will provide water from Strawberry Reservoir down into Santaquin,” said Gene Shawcroft, general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. “It’s a little piece of a large, large system.”
The stretch Beaudreau toured is a piece of the Spanish Fork — Santaquin Pipeline, expected to be completed in about a year. The district has several other sections that will likely be finished in the next two or three years.
“We have a whole bunch of pipe to build still,” Chris Hansen shouted as an articulating dump truck rumbled past the trench that will eventually be filled with concrete to support the pipeline. Hansen is the program manager for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
But the construction should speed up with funds from the infrastructure bill, which Beaudreau says is “coming at just the right time to help folks cope with the drought and provide new water delivery systems to growing populations here in the valley.”
Shawcroft told the Deseret News the pipeline is one of many important ways to make Utah more drought resilient.
“Whether we call it drought, whether we call it aridification, we have to be prepared with these kinds of projects to have storage, to deliver water at times when Mother Nature isn't that cooperative with us,” he said.
Easing tensions between Western states and Washington D.C.
In October, President Joe Biden reinstated Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to their original sizes after they were drastically reduced by former President Donald Trump.
The move was criticized by many Utah politicians, including Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who said Biden “opted to ignore the people who live near these monuments and do it alone.” It’s an example of the tension between the federal government and leaders in Western states, who in this case accused the president of overreach.
But on Thursday, Beaudreau pointed to the projects as an example of what happens when there’s collaboration “at the federal, state, local and tribal levels.”
“I’m from Alaska, that’s part of the dynamic in my home state as well,” he told the Deseret News. “But I think what these projects do is they highlight, in ways that I think will impact, in a positive way, local residents, what can be accomplished when genuine partnerships are happening.”
In a news release, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the $50 million for the two projects was “a key provision of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.” Romney helped negotiate the legislation.
“Beaudreau’s visit to Spanish Fork will provide him with a better understanding of Utah’s water needs and highlight our state’s efforts to manage and recover an endangered species, the June sucker. I hope he enjoys his visit to the Beehive State and I look forward to working with him as we address Utah’s land and water issues,” he said.