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Boon or Boondoggle? Lake Powell Pipeline Environmental Impact Statement open for public comment

Posted at 7:17 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 21:17:55-04

LAKE POWELL, Utah — The proposed pipeline meant to deliver Colorado River water to Washington County now exists on paper in the form of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).

The DEIS includes descriptions of the form of the billion-plus dollar project favored by the State of Utah and water managers in southwestern Utah.

Environmentalists have opposed the idea from the start. Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, says it's overpriced and just encourages overuse of the West's most precious resource.

"The Lake Powell Pipeline is completely unnecessary. It's too costly and it's going to require a 500 percent increase in water rates in Washington County to pay for it. It's not a benefit to Washington County residents. It's an albatross for the future," Frankel said.

But Zachary Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, says the St. George area is quickly outgrowing its available water.

"As our county continues to grow ... there is a need — especially as you look at climate change and other variabilities that come into our water situation. To have the ability to tap into the most reliable water source in the western United States is invaluable," Renstrom said.

The favored proposal in the DEIS is called the "Southern Alternative," and it begins just below the Glen Canyon Dam, which holds back the water in Lake Powell.

A map in the statement shows the 5'9" diameter pipe extended 141 miles across northern Arizona and southern Utah, with four booster pumps to push the water uphill and six hydrostations allowing for water to be drawn.

The project also includes a network of power lines and access roads.

All told, Renstrom says the project should cost between 1.1 and 1.7 billion dollars.

That’s in line with an audit of the potential project conducted in 2015. Renstrom says the estimate is accurate because project costs have been reduced.

“The numbers we've floated now are based on brand new things we have done to reduce costs,” said Renstrom.

Frankel believes the DEIS underestimates the costs by a billion dollars or more.

“The 2019 legislative audit of the Lake Powell pipeline would cost 2.4 billion dollars,” said Frankel.

The DEIS is available to read online here, and public comment is open for 90 days.