The Real Cost of the Lake Powell Pipeline
Utah is proposing the largest new diversion of the Colorado River that will sink Utahns in debt and dry up downstream states.
The Lake Powell Pipeline is a massive diversion of the Colorado River being proposed to provide additional water to Washington County, Utah, one of America’s most wasteful water users.
This $2 billion project would divert as much water as 700,000 average Americans use in a year, 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 150,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water—primarily for watering their lawns.
On December 1, 2015 the State of Utah submitted its application for approval of the pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulator Commission (FERC), marking the first official step in their attempt to build this disastrous river diversion.
A complicated array of 140 miles of pipelines, pumping stations, reservoirs and generators would cross state, federal and Indian lands, necessitating huge rate increases for St. George residents. Most Utahns won’t receive any water whatsoever from the pipeline. This huge project would divert Colorado River water immediately upstream of the Grand Canyon, further diminishing flows for a river that no longer reaches the ocean.
The project is so complex that over the last eight years the state has already spent $27 million on paperwork and planning.
A group of 20 economists from several Utah universities analyzed the impact that $2 billion of debt would have on residents of Washington and Kane Counties. They found that repaying this debt would require dramatic increases in water rates, impact fees and property taxes—far outweighing the benefits of extra water.
In fact, the cost was so prohibitive that when Iron County residents—who were also slated to receive water—learned the true cost of the pipeline, they pressured their elected officials to formally withdraw from the project. Iron County’s reversal is a warning to Washington & Kane County residents: Shouldering massive debt and rate increases for unneeded water is a bad recipe for the future.
Proponents for the pipeline claim this costly water project is necessary because Utah is running out of water, but scientific research and a groundswell of public opinion prove that the $2 billion project is as unnecessary as it is unpopular.
Inexpensive Alternatives to Lake Powell Pipeline for Washington County’s Future
Three Better Solutions for Washington County:
Washington County uses twice as much water as the national average, and an audit has shown that there is already a large surplus of unused water in the county. Far from needing more water, if Washington County simply enacts three meaningful conservation strategies the current supply will provide enough water for the next 45 years—including predicted population growth.
- Restructure water rates to penalize water wasters and reward conscientious users
- Impose watering restriction enforcement
- Offer rebates and incentives to conserve water outside the home.
Phasing Out Property Taxes for Water
The water supplier delivering water in Washington County receives more money collecting property taxes from area residents and businesses than it does from selling water and uses those tax dollars to offset water rates. This artificially lowers the cost of wasting water and forces all taxpayers—even those who are conscientious water users—to pay for their neighbor’s waste.
Phasing out these property taxes for water in Washington County will reduce water use by 27 percent, according to an economic model produced at the University of Utah. If property taxes for water were removed, all water users would have to pay the real cost of their water supply. This includes some of the biggest wasters in the state—Government and tax-exempt institutions who use large amounts of water for Kentucky bluegrass landscaping.
Pricing water at its true cost sends a signal to consumers that water is a valuable resource.—especially in a desert state. And there is a lot of room for conservation without causing hardship—each person in St. George currently uses a staggering 325 gallons every day. By no longer subsidizing waste and following successful conservation models (like those that have been adopted in Albuquerque, Phoenix and Las Vegas), Utah can dramatically cut municipal water use while still providing plenty of water for a growing economy.
Convert Surplus Agricultural Water for Municipal Use
70% of the water consumed in Washington County is currently used by farms and ranches. As Washington County grows, urbanization will continue to convert its farms to homes and businesses. Although the loss of farmland is nothing to celebrate, paving irrigated farmland creates a surplus of water.
Converting this surplus water to new urban uses is a key component of ensuring adequate water supply, but Utah’s water salesmen have been ignoring and downplaying the growing amount of agricultural water available for over a decade. Reallocation, after all, is less profitable than collecting billions of taxpayer dollars to build a new pipeline.
If Washington County has a surplus, why build a pipeline?
Utah is not using its full legal share of Colorado River water and that’s why the Lake Powell Pipeline is being proposed— to keep other states from using “Utah’s water.” Even Utah water leaders concede the project’s ‘true’ purpose is to keep downstream states from using “Utah’s Share” of the Colorado River.
But since diverting water solely to keep others from using it is a poor justification for the $2 billion Lake Powell Pipeline, supporters are pushing an intentionally misleading scare-tactic: Washington County is running out of water.