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Group pitches Utah lawmakers on a pipeline to the Great Salt Lake

Posted at 3:33 PM, Aug 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-29 22:31:00-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — A group met with some Utah lawmakers and representatives of the governor's office to pitch an idea of a pipeline from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake.

International Water Holdings held a two-day conference to discuss water issues facing the Great Salt Lake and the Great Basin. FOX 13 News attended part of the meeting, which was held last week at the Salt Palace.

"This is an amazing opportunity for Utah to get involved in that process, if they want to," said International Water Holdings President Todd Peterson.

The Great Salt Lake is at its lowest level in its recorded history and presents and economic and environmental crisis for the state with reduced snowpack, toxic dust storms and impacts to animals and industry that rely on it. The lake has been shrinking as a result of water diversion, the ongoing mega-drought impacting Utah and climate change. As a result, state leaders have said they are willing to consider all options to try to save it.

International Water Holdings is proposing a pipeline that would stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Salt Lake. Nathan White, the CEO of Agess, Inc. and a member of the group's board, indicated that one potential route could be from Tres Mares in Mexico, through San Diego and up through southern Utah, bypassing the Sierra-Nevada mountains and piggybacking off of existing freeways or other infrastructure.

"This is way more possible than people think. It’s just we’re not getting our heads around it," Peterson said.

Peterson acknowledged he has not been involved in a pipeline project like this before, but was working with people who have done similar work. Asked if this would require taxpayer dollars, Peterson said his group was securing private funding and believed a project like this could ultimately be profitable.

"We've talked to financiers who are happy to finance the entire pipeline," he said.

Asked how much it could cost, Peterson acknowledged the potential for a multi-billion dollar price tag.

"Honestly? We’ve had bids on the pipes. The first person who bid said, 'You know, this would probably be the biggest project in the U.S.' The next day, he came back and said, 'I misspoke. It’s probably going to be the biggest project in the world,'" he said. "But it fixes all the stuff."

Three members of the Utah State Legislature attended the meetings. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, told FOX 13 News he was intrigued by the idea.

"This has been going on in other countries to pipe water from the ocean inland," he said. "There’s a lot of things we can do with salt water we aren’t doing presently."

Asked if this was the solution to save the Great Salt Lake, Sen. Hinkins replied: "I don’t know. It’s a solution, or a possible part of a solution."

Mike Mower, a senior advisor to Governor Spencer Cox, welcomed the group to Salt Lake City and listened to some of the presentations on water issues and how a pipeline might help. He cautioned they were not endorsing any particular idea, but willing to consider all options.

"With the challenges our state is facing when it comes to water, it’s important to not only conserve but also look for other ways we might enhance water in Utah," he said. "No final decisions have been made, but what’s happening at the Great Salt Lake is so critical that we need to explore all options."

International Water Holdings is meeting with people in other states to discuss water woes in the West. The group's board was recently in Nevada to talk about Lake Mead and will be in Arizona next month.

FOX 13 News first reported in May that the Utah State Legislature's Water Development Commission ordered a study on the feasibility of a pipeline to the Great Salt Lake. Utah Senator Mitt Romney's recent bill on the Great Salt Lake has also explored whether a pipeline is possible.

The state of Utah would likely be very involved in permits, regulatory issues and some taxpayer dollars might ultimately need to be used, even if the project is privately funded. Sarah Null, an associate professor of watershed sciences at Utah State University in Logan, told FOX 13 News a pipeline project would be so expensive it's not really feasible.

"Let’s use the Salton Sea as an example because a similar pipeline has been proposed," she said. "Salton Sea is 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the cheapest one I found there was $10 billion and the most expensive is about $49 billion. Great Salt Lake is more in the 600, 700 miles depending on the pathline we took."

Null said costs would be even higher with salination processes and energy costs associated with elevation gains. She said there were other options that state leaders should consider first.

"For example, we should be conserving water and making sure that conserved water gets to Great Salt Lake. We might be looking at treated wastewater and making sure that treated water goes to Great Salt Lake," Null said. "We should probably be taking new dams off the table. We should be looking at water banking and maybe finding ways to incentivize water banking as a way to reallocate water. We should be looking at the public trust doctrine to bring water to the environment."

Janice Lucero, a cultivator with the Pueblo Isleta Tribe came up from New Mexico to sit in International Water Holdings' presentation. She said she wanted to learn more about the idea, but also had questions about long-term impacts to the environment.

"If there were a crack in those pipelines. How does that affect the current environment? The soil, right? What are those types of implications? How secure are these pipelines and what are, again, what are the costs? What is the cost to the people? What is the cost to the community? Are they going to be funded through the states?" she said.

Peterson said he welcomed the questions.

"We’re trying to get as many people as want to be involved to be involved," he said. "Because we don’t believe this is something that can be fixed by one metro in one place, doing it all by themselves."

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.