Lake Powell Pipeline Basics
- The Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) would span 140 miles (map) from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Washington County, Utah.
- The LPP would carry 86,000 acre feet of water per year at full capacity.
- LPP’s infrastructure will adversely affect the scenic values of the landscape along the highway. New structures include four hydroelectric turbine and six pumping stations with power lines connecting them to existing power grids, substations, lights, new access roads, regulating tanks and reservoirs, manholes, blow off valves, fencing, buried forebay tanks, buried surge tanks, (pig retrievals used to clean the pipe) and surface overflow detention basins. The continued operation, maintenance, repair and excavation of the pipeline would significantly degrade the region’s scenic values.
- Every pumping station would have a chemical room to poison and prevent quagga mussels.
- The LPP would serve 13 communities in Southern Utah, most notably St. George, Washington, Hurricane, Santa Clara, Ivins, LaVerkin, Toquerville, Virgin, and Apple Valley.
- The LPP would cost approximately $1.1-$1.8 billion by the latest state estimate but this does not include the financing cost.
- The State of Utah wants to develop its remaining share of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The issue: there is no physical water to develop.
- Two counties, the Central Iron County (CIC) and the Kane County Water Conservancy District (KCWCD), were original participants and both have backed out, (CIC due to cost and KCWCD due to lack of need).
Utah’s Colorado River Water Right and LPP
The State of Utah (Utah) wants to develop about 361,000 acre-feet (paper water rights) of its remaining share of the Colorado River. A portion of this share (86,000 acre-feet) is allocated for the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP).
There are risks with this remaining share. The water may not be present in the river to use over the long term due to:
- increased use,
- reduced snowpack and streamflow from rising temperatures,
- over-allocation of the river’s water,
- the junior priority of LPP’s water right,
- unsettled Federal Reserve Water Rights claims from tribes and others,
- Senior water rights must be met before Utah’s Colorado River Upper Basin allocation of 23% can be utilized,
- Utah’s Colorado River water right is not fixed – it is a percentage – and as Colorado River water availability goes down, so does Utah’s allocation,
- Utah has an annual water right of 1.4 million acre-feet of depletion from the Colorado River Compact based on Utah’s 23% of what remains after the Lower Basin (CA, AZ, NV) and Mexico take their allocation. The obstacle is that the Colorado River allocation is based on a river flow of 15 million acre-feet yearly (MAFY). Studies show the Colorado River is only producing approximately 13-14 MAFY, which is predicted to decline due to reduced snowpack and streamflow from increasing temperatures. Thus far, the issue of decreased flow of the Colorado River has not been addressed in the plan to build the LPP.
Colorado River Supply and Demand
Since 2002 the average Colorado River water demand already outstripped average supplies. Read more about this ongoing challenge: Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study.
Utah officials feel they must hurry to use all of Utah’s Colorado River rights or the Lower Basin states (CA, AZ, NV) will take it; however, Utah may already be using its share because there is less supply.
Washington County Water Use
The State of Utah and the Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) keep pushing for this LPP project despite its high cost and lack of necessity. Washington County continues to be the West’s most wasteful water user and can do far more to use water efficiently. Washington County’s water use (as of the WCWCD’s June 2019 press release) is 303 gallons per capita per day (gcpd). The national average is 179 gcpd.
To justify the need for the LPP, the WCWCD’s forecast for water demand is artificially high. The WCWCD has used inaccurate and outdated water use data, low cost estimates to build the LPP and low approximations for future impact of water conservation.
Creating a standard to collect accurate baseline data of water use and supply is critical to developing accurate projections of water demand.
The Economic Risk
The laws that govern the Colorado River have allocated more water annually than the river produces. This is an economic risk that Utah has ignored and is not addressed in the LPP studies.
Investing billions of dollars and buying into the failing Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) is not a financial risk worth taking. The State is not considering this economic risk. Using water more efficiently and implementing water conservation measures in combination is the least expensive option.
Initial project estimates in 1995 were $186 million and have now skyrocketed to over billions of dollars. The entire repayment burden will fall on the shoulders of Washington County residents. The residents have a right to know how much they will pay in higher impact fees, surcharges, and property taxes before the Lake Powell Pipeline is approved. With a public project of this size, the lack of transparency is troubling. These questions are still not answered even though the project has been studied for 14 years and $36 million of taxpayer’s dollars have been spent in doing so.
The WCWCD has also failed to explain how they will be able to pay the high annual payments to the State. The “Performance Audit of the Repayment Feasibility of the Lake Powell Pipeline” by Utah’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General revealed that the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act does not clearly define repayment to the State and costs could be significantly higher.
Supply uncertainty arises largely from boom and bust cycles of population growth. The financial risks associated with growth forecasts are greater with a single large project. The current approach to the Pipeline project would unduly commit residents to high repayment obligations if demand or costs are different than projected.
Governor Herbert created the Executive Water Finance Board to study the cost of the LPP. They have determined the LPP is a $1 billion state subsidy with annual payments by the state of $80-120 million that will take funds away from other state needs. Click Here: https://www.utah.gov/pmn/files/444007.pdf.
How Might Washington County Pay?
Impact fees, water rates, and property taxes are the three ways Washington County plans to repay the State for the LPP. The ability of Washington County to repay using these three sources is based on growth.
Under the current plan, every family or business that buys a building permit would pay for the LPP through impact fees. The Water County Water Conservancy District, (WCWCD), assumes that population growth will lead to an increased number of impact fees; however, to cover any shortfall in impact fees, the WCWCD also imposed a Water Development Surcharge ($1.75 per month) on all residents of cities that signed the Washington County Regional Pipeline Agreement. This surcharge can be increased at any time to protect WCDCD’s bond rating.
According to a 2019 Utah State Legislative AUDIT: Washington County already has the second highest water impact fees in the State. The ability to charge even higher fees is a key assumption for revenue growth to re-pay the State for the LPP. Planned increases will nearly double the impact fee from 2018 to 2025. A model assumed that the Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) would carry out its planned increases in impact fees from $9,417 in 2019 to $15,448 by 2026. After 2026, the model assumes the fee will gradually increase. While it cannot be determined what the highest impact fee will be, it will likely increase once the final cost of the LPP is established.
If construction begins in 2025, using the most conservative estimated project cost of $1.4 billion, the cost grows to $2.4 billion with inflation.
The Washington County Water Conservancy District, (WCWCD) plans to increase water rates from $0.10 per 1,000 gallons a year to $3.84 by 2045, a 357% increase over 30 years.
The increased water rates coupled with population growth, rapidly increases potential revenue; however, if there is a recession, this would hamper the WCWCD’s ability to service the debt with the State.
Currently, Washington County’s water rates are 30%-85% lower than other cities in the region.
The third leg of the repayment stool is property taxes. Since 2018 Washington County property taxes have been raised twice. WCWCD Manager, Ron Thompson, who retired in 2019, planned to raise property taxes to reach the upper property tax levy of .001 by 2030.
Washington County is already struggling to provide affordable housing for many of its citizens. The County is known as a retirement community and has a significant population on a fixed income. Increased property tax increases will put a burden on those who can least afford it.
Southwest Utah is fortunate to have many sources of water that can be developed incrementally as needed at a fraction of the cost of the LPP.
Washington County is not running out of water. The Water County Water Conservancy District’s report to the credit agency FITCH, in an effort to maintain a high credit rating, states there are many and adequate sources of water within the County. Yet in an effort to justify the building of the LPP the WCWCD did not report all of the existing water supplies to the public and the Utah Legislature. Two sets of figures are used by the WCWCD depending on the situation or objective: protecting a credit rating vs. justifying building the LPP.
CSU suggests that there are additional supplies which include:
- water rights held by private landowners, primarily agricultural
- water yield from existing water projects.
Western Resource Advocates wrote a report, Local Waters Alternative, advocating for measures to be implemented for water efficiency and conservation across all sectors. Many communities have developed a water budget which has led to dramatic water reduction.
Water Management steps that would yield increased water supplies for the future are:
- revising and updating of water pricing,
- raising water pricing for high use months like July,
- implementing water budget rates,
- metering all water use,
- adopting landscape ordinances which promote conservation,
- instituting reuse,
- recycling water,
- treating groundwater,
- capturing stormwater.
The risks of depending on a water supply from the Colorado River for the LPP is explained in “The Twenty-First Century Colorado River Hot Drought and Implications for The Future” by Udall and Overpeck 2017. Read More Here.
Conservation First! Become Self-Reliant
Washington County has some of the highest per capita use and the lowest prices for water in the West.
Collecting accurate water use and supply data is crucial to finding solutions.
Washington County can become more efficient in its use of water by:
- boosting local water supplies,
- increasing conservation,
- implementing water budget rates
- creating pricing strategies that signal conservation,
- reusing water.
CSU supports Smart Growth and fiscal responsibility without burdening Washington County with massive debt that present and future generations can’t afford.
The LPP is not the answer and is not sustainable over time. State and County leaders should be pursuing a strategy of making our area more self-reliant by reducing water demand and developing new and unused water resources locally. Vulnerability to reduced flows of the Colorado River, litigation, political conflict, controversy, uncertainty and quagga mussel infestations should not be part of Washington County’s future.
Go Here for More Details!
Lake Powell Pipeline:
- Economist Letter to Governor 2015
- Economists report pipeline 2015
- Local Waters Alternative fact sheet
- Local Waters Alternative full report 2012
- WRA Local Waters Alternative update 2018
- CDF letter LPP Model Aguero
- Water Conservation Eliminates Need for Lake Powell Pipeline
- Can You Afford the Lake Powell Pipeline?
- Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act 2006
- Economists letter on LPP repayment
- Estimated 2008 Cost Pipeline
- Utah’s Climate is changing 2014
- The Face of Waste in Utah
- Lake Powell Pipeline Alternatives
- Review of Water Supply Needs in Washington County – Hydrosphere Report
- Water, climate change, and sustainability in the Southwest
- Is the Lake Powell Pipeline Really Needed? R. Ingebretson
- Scripps Study: When will Lake Mead go dry?
- Utah Division of Water Resources Project Updates & map
- Cost of Water Treatment
Lake Powell Pipeline in the News
- Population growth, water use in desert 7.2
- The desert’s limited lifeblood 6.17
- Colorado River Study and the Law of the River 3.20.13
- In an arid land, we must manage our thirst | The Salt Lake Tribune
- Water Piped West to Denver Could Ease Stress on Colo. River – NYTimes 12.9.12
- My view_ Population projections cripple the case for the Lake Powell Pipeline _ Deseret News 10.24.12
- Utah needs a water policy _ The Salt Lake Tribune
- Water is life _ The Salt Lake Tribune 8.29.12
- Pipeline_ Pay up! _ The Salt Lake Tribune 7.21.12
- Extreme Weather and Drought Are Here to Stay – NYTimes 8.11.12
- Slowing growth may delay or kill Lake Powell Pipeline _ The Salt Lake Tribune 7.31.12
- Stretching the Colorado River – Las Vegas Sun News 8.13.12
- Southwestern Drought, in Fact and Film – NYTimes 7.20.12
- Water Supplies Past Tipping Point 7.14.12
- June Lake Powell Inflow 13 Percent of Average 7.12.12
- Empty straw _ The Salt Lake Tribune 6.30.12
- Powell pipeline a billion-dollar gamble_ _ The Salt Lake Tribune 6.21.12
- Water wise _ The Salt Lake Tribune
- Utah criticized for ignoring climate change in water planning _ The Salt Lake Tribune
- Can St. George Afford the Lake Powell Pipeline?
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Impact fees, water rates, and property taxes are the three ways Washington County plans to repay the State for the LPP. The ability of the county to repay using these three sources is based on growth.