Lake Powell was considered full in 1980 and since that time the overall water level has decreased due to overuse and decreased water flows of the Colorado River. This photo highlights the "bathtub ring" that resulted along the cliffs surrounding Lake Powell. Photo Credit: Lin Alder.

The 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.
  • The State of Utah feels compelled to build some project to use its remaining share of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, ignoring the fact that river flows have never met the promises of river development boosters. Here, in the twenty-first century, we find that climate change is dealing even greater disappointments, with the first few years of this century constituting the deepest drought since the first measurements in the late 1800s. The issue: there is no physical water to develop.
  • Lake Powell Pipeline’s infrastructure would scar iconic and scenic landscapes, block wildlife movements, and disturb ancient archaeological sites along its route. Proposed new structures include six hydroelectric plants 25′ high, each with a substation and five pump stations 35′ high, each with a substation with power lines, high steel power poles connecting them to existing power grids, cell towers, parking lots, 2 substations along the power lines, lights, new paved access roads, regulating tanks and reservoirs, manholes, air release valves, vacuum relief valves, blow-off valves, fencing, buried forebay tanks, buried surge tanks, and surface overflow detention basins all of which require weekly maintenance. Operation, maintenance, repair, and excavation of the pipeline would significantly degrade the region’s scenic beauty, its wildlife, and its wildland remoteness.
  • Every pumping station would have a chemical room to poison and prevent quagga mussels.
  • They will drill a temporary water well every 5 miles to provide water for construction that would include electric power.
  • Building of the LPP would require extensive excavation of soils and would be more than was used in cement to build Hoover Dam.
  • The LPP would serve 10 communities in Southern Utah, most notably St. George, Washington, Hurricane, Santa Clara, Ivins, LaVerkin, Toquerville, Virgin, and Apple Valley.
  • The LPP would cost approximately $1-2 billion by the latest state estimate but this does not include the financing cost.
  • 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).

The Lake Powell Pipeline is Unnecessary.

A Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) June 2018 press release revealed that our 303 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) breaks down this way:

“The data reports that Washington County residents used 143 gallons per person daily (also known as GPCD — gallons per capita per day). Factoring in all potable water use (second home, commercial, institutional and industrial), the total was 231 GPCD. Unlike most other cities and states, Utah reports secondary (untreated) and reused water in its total GPCD numbers. Most of Washington County’s secondary water (72 GPCD) is used to irrigate parks, cemeteries and golf courses.” (emphasis added)

The national average is 140 GPCD.

The Utah Division of Water Resources (UDWRe) and the Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) keep pushing for the Lake Powell Pipeline project despite the fact that Washington County continues to be one of the West’s most wasteful water users.

UDWRe and WCWCD assert in the draft EIS for the Lake Powell Pipeline that implementing conservation to enable us to live within our “water means” would severely restrict outdoor watering, which would undermine the region’s economy, environment, quality of life, and tourism. CSU does not see it that way nor, apparently, do other desert cities that have grown vibrant economies and tourism while continuing to reduce their water demand through effective conservation, and which use less water now than the state plans for our area in 2065. The old adage that growing populations need more water has been disproven time and again.

Handling the Demand with Local Water
Contrary to WCWCD’s assertions, southern Utah has abundant local water from diverse sources, and there are myriad ways we can improve our water supply and use to sustain our growth for many years at a fraction of the cost of the LPP. We should be using accurate data and making our area more self-reliant by reducing water demand and developing new and improving existing local water resources.

We Are Not Running Out of Water
UDWRe warned in 2009 that we would run out of water in 2020, but that is clearly not the case

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The Lake Powell Pipeline is Costly.

Things have changed since the Utah Legislature passed the 2006 Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act. For one thing, the cost of the Lake Powell Pipeline has grown significantly, from $187 million in 1995 when it was first conceived, to $257 million in 2001, $354 million in 2006, and now, $1.8-2.0 billion in the 2020 draft EIS. Meanwhile, 2065 population projections have plummeted from 860,000 to 508,952. Yet, Utah wants the same amount of water 86,000 AFY.

Providing for southern Utah’s water demand while protecting the area’s affordability is essential to southern Utah’s future. But satisfying demand with the Lake Powell Pipeline would all but destroy Washington County’s tradition of fiscal responsibility, self-reliance, and good stewardship of our land and water. Local water sources will deliver southern Utah’s future affordably and reliably, without burdening future generations with a massive debt and a water supply vulnerable to drought, litigation. political conflict. controversy and uncertainty.

The Economic Risk

The Utah Legislature, concerned about the Utah Division of Water Resources’ (UDWRe) approach to providing water for Washington County, asked the Office of the Legislative Auditor General to assess the state’s projected need for water and the UDWRe’s analysis of potential solutions, including the Lake Powell Pipeline proposal.

Governor Herbert created the Executive Water Finance Board to study how to pay for the Lake Powell Pipeline. They have determined the Lake Powell Pipeline 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:

The Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act requires that Washington County residents pay for the Lake Powell Pipeline project. But auditors noted that the Washington County Water Conservancy District’s (WCWCD) proposal attempts to circumvent that requirement:

“Although the Lake Powell Pipeline Act calls for a ‘reasonable interest rate,’ a recent financing summary submitted by the Washington County Water Conservancy District would create a large state taxpayer subsidy (range of $1 billion). The proposed taxpayer subsidy comes primarily from repaying the loan over a long time period with devalued future dollars.”

With a public project of this size, the lack of transparency is troubling. The entire repayment burden will fall on the shoulders of Washington County residents and

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we have a right to know how much we will pay in higher impact fees, surcharges, and property taxes before the Lake Powell Pipeline is approved. Despite spending 14 years and $36 million of taxpayer’s dollars on the analysis, these questions are still not answered.

How Might Washington County Pay?

To pay for the project, Washington County residents will see a quadrupling in water rates, a doubling in impact fees, and a 50% increase in property taxes going to Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD).  All alternatives for repayment by Washington County hinge on population growth. What happens if we don’t grow as the proponents claim. You guessed it; costs to residents will have to go up.

  • Impact Fees

One proposal assesses an impact fee on every family or business that buys a building permit. The  WCWCD assumes that population growth means more impact fees; however, to cover any shortfall in impact fees, the WCWCD has already 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 WCWCD’s bond rating.

Washington County already has the second highest water impact fee in the State. AUDIT. Planned increases will nearly double the impact fee from $9,417 in 2019 to $15,448 by 2026. The maximum impact fee has not been established, but it’s almost certain to increase once the final cost of the Lake Powell Pipeline is established.

  • Water Rates

The Washington County Water Conservancy District, (WCWCD) plans to increase water rates from $0.84 per 1,000 gallons a year to $3.84 by 2045, a 357 percent increase over 30 years.

It makes sense to charge more for more water use, however, higher fees in a recession could undermine the WCWCD’s ability to service the debt. Notably, Washington County’s water rates are 30%-85% lower than other cities in the southwest.

  • Property Taxes

The third leg of the repayment stool is property tax. In the last two years, the WCWCD has raised property taxes twice. The former WCWCD manager planned to continue raising property taxes until reaching the upper property tax levy of 0.001 by 2030. Washington County is known as an attractive retirement community and many in this population live on a fixed income. Increased property tax increases will put a growing burden on those who may be able to least afford it.

Cheaper Alternatives

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 Lake Powell Pipeline.

Washington County is not running out of water.  The Water County Water Conservancy District claims as much when they submit reports to credit agencies FITCHYet, perhaps in an effort to justify the building of the Lake Powell Pipeline, the WCWCD did not report all of the existing water supplies to the public and the Utah Legislature. The amount of potential water apparently depends on the situation or objective: whether protecting a credit rating or justifying building the Lake Powell Pipeline.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is not the answer and is not financially sustainable. 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 local water resources. Vulnerability to reduced flows of the Colorado River, litigation, political conflict, controversy, uncertainty, and almost certain quagga mussel infestations should not be part of Washington County’s future.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is Risky.

Utah water agencies allege the Lake Powell Pipeline water right is the most secure on the Colorado River. It is not. Utah’s water right is not fixed. It is only 23% of the water left after senior water rights holders get all their water. Due to declining water supplies from rising temperatures Utah doesn’t have any physical water remaining in its allocation.

Colorado River Compact

Colorado River scholars Eric Kuhn and John Fleck wrote in their recent book, Science Be Dammed, that, even as early as 1922, scientists knew that flows of the Colorado River were overestimated and there wasn’t enough water for the allocations. Boosters for agriculture and urban development ignored them, resulting in problems that continue today.

In the end, the seven southwestern states of the Colorado River watershed—California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming—agreed to allocate what they thought was a safe, average, annual, and “natural” flow of the Colorado River, ~17 million acre-feet per year (MAFY) at Lee Ferry, Arizona which is the boundary between the Upper and Lower Basin states. Historically, however, annual flows have averaged only 13-14 MAFY, with some reports as low as 12.5 MAFY.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has documented that there is more water allocated from the Colorado River than the river delivers annually, even without considering the effects of future climate change. Releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead continue to exceed inflows, and the over-allocation and overuse have created a functional deficit that is draining the reservoirs. Due to climate change, scientists predict that there will be even less water in the future to fill the reservoirs. As a result, Utah will find its claim to its remaining share of the Colorado River is only a “paper,” or theoretical, water right—the water is not in the river.

Lake Powell Pipeline’s Junior Water Right Status

Utah faces an additional challenge because of the junior status of the Lake Powell Pipeline water right. As the river flows decline, this water right will be subordinate to senior water right holders. This water right doesn’t even have a high enough priority to guarantee the water will be available long enough to pay off the project. Officials apparently never did

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their due diligence on this water right.

Water right holders senior to the Lake Powell Pipeline’s water right include:

  • Northern Ute Tribe (Uinta Basin)
  • Navajo and other tribal rights
  • Lower Basin states (claim the first 7.5 MAFY of the Colorado River)
  • Mexico (granted 1.5 MAFY by treaty)
  • Other federal reserved water rights, not yet determined
  • Other water rights established before 1958
  • Central Utah Project, Bonneville Unit (supplies Wasatch Front)

Utah’s Water Exchange with BOR to Buy Water for the LPP

The Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) Act directed the Bureau of Reclamation to build the Flaming Gorge Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam, among others. The dams were built to capture the extra spring run-off so that the Upper Basin states could divert their water at upstream sites and still have enough water to meet the Upper Basin’s 1922 Compact obligations at Lee Ferry to provide water to the Lower Basin states and Mexico.

Since CRSP was built by the federal government, and because Utah agreed to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Utah has to buy water from the BOR for the Lake Powell Pipeline. One of the purposes of the draft EIS for the Lake Powell Pipeline is to approve Utah’s request to buy water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and transfer it to Lake Powell for the pipeline.

As part of the Lake Powell Pipeline Water Exchange Contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, Utah must supply to the Green River an equal amount of the water it receives from Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Utah’s exchange proposal is to use “excess spring run-off” from the Green River tributaries. However, that same spring runoff is already being used by the CRSP, the Central Utah Project, and other senior water rights holders. Moreover, these excess run-offs are likely to be reduced significantly by climate change.

Upper Basin Water Right Used in Lower Basin

Another hurdle for Utah stems from its participation in the Compact as an Upper Basin state. The Lake Powell Pipeline water right would transfer Upper Basin water, from above Lee Ferry, for use in the Lower Basin (Virgin River watershed). Arizona’s Department of Water Resources formally objected in 2017, noting that this transfer violates the Colorado River Compact. Such a transfer would therefore require the approval of the U.S. Congress and all other Colorado River Basin states. In times of shortage this seems unlikely, making this water right even less secure.

Climate Change

Utah is not responsibly considering the risk that climate change will reduce water availability. The risks are explained in “The Twenty-First Century Colorado River Hot Drought and Implications for The Future,” by Udall and Overpeck 2017. Click Here

Contrived Needs

Finally, the state and the local water district have introduced a new requirement for a “second source” of water to support our county. Given that the Lake Powell Pipeline is unnecessary due to our high water usage, local supply potential, the risk of the water right, and the current cost of the pipeline, the cost of seeking a “second source” of water from an over-allocated and declining Colorado River seems an unreasonable burden to place on the county—and our state.