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Conservation Groups Vow to Fight Utah Water Pipeline

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A proposed water pipeline would transfer 86,000-acre feet of water a year from Lake Powell (above) for water customers in southwestern Utah. (JodiJacobson/iStockphoto)
A proposed water pipeline would transfer 86,000-acre feet of water a year from Lake Powell (above) for water customers in southwestern Utah. (JodiJacobson/iStockphoto)
May 3, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - The State of Utah has filed for a permit to build a controversial 140-mile pipeline to send water from the Colorado River to southwestern Utah, but a coalition of conservation groups says its members will fight the project.

The Lake Powell Pipeline could take up to 86,000 acre-feet of water a year from Lake Powell.

Gary Wockner, executive director of the group Save the Colorado, warns the project could push an already stressed Colorado River system to the breaking point.

"It would further exacerbate the problems in the Lower Basin that they're having about trying to keep Lake Mead up to the bar," says Wockner. "And it basically would continue draining Lake Powell, and would increase the likelihood of what's called a 'compact call.'"

A compact call means a plan signed by the states that draw water from the river would go into effect, using a formula that limits each state's allocation.

Wockner says the pipeline would take water out of the river before it even reaches customers in Arizona, Nevada and California.

Some officials also predict that customers of the $1.5 billion pipeline could see a 500 percent increase in their water bills.

Wockner says the State of Utah is trying to get around the existing river agreement, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, by filing for a permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

He says though the plan is to use a small amount of the downhill flow for hydroelectric power, the project doesn't meet the requirements for that type of permit.

"There's simply not enough water in the river right now to meet all the needs, and climate change is only making it worse," he says. "And so, the idea that you can take more water out of this river that's already completely over-allocated is just a ridiculous idea, and we're going to clamp down everywhere it happens."

Wockner says in addition to Save the Colorado, the Utah Rivers Council, both the Utah and Grand Canyon chapters of the Sierra Club and several other groups have joined forces to fight the Lake Powell Pipeline project.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT