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Groups: Utah Water Pipeline Project Unnecessary, Dangerous

Water from the Upper Basin of the Colorado River is stored in Lake Mead near Las Vegas. A white ring around the banks is evidence of a 20-year drought that has left the reservoir less than half full. (trekandphoto/Adobe Stock)
Water from the Upper Basin of the Colorado River is stored in Lake Mead near Las Vegas. A white ring around the banks is evidence of a 20-year drought that has left the reservoir less than half full. (trekandphoto/Adobe Stock)

September 11, 2020

ST. GEORGE, Utah -- A coalition of 15 conservation groups says a Utah plan to divert water from Lake Powell is unnecessary, overpriced and endangers the region's already-depleted water supply.

Representatives from the six states that surround Utah sent a letter to Congress this week, threatening legal action unless the pipeline is put on hold. The $2 billion project would pull 86,000 acre-feet of water each year from the upper Colorado River basin and send it to a reservoir near St. George in Washington County. But Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said the Colorado River just doesn't have any more water to give.

"Since climate change is reducing the snowpacks of the Colorado," he said, "most states believe that there is no more water available in the Colorado River to develop that isn't already allocated to existing users."

Backers of the project have said Washington County needs the additional water to fuel economic growth in the area. Frankel disagreed, saying per-capita water consumption in St. George is twice that of other cities in the West.

Although Congress may have to approve the project, Frankel said the federal government wants to get the deal done before the next president -- whoever that may be -- takes office.

"The Trump administration has expedited the permitting for this," he said. "They're hoping to issue a final EIS right after Thanksgiving, and they want to approve the project on Jan. 19."

Frankel added that, ironically, the project could leave St. George residents unhappy with their water bills.

"Long after those lobbyists and contractors have been paid, the residents are going to see gigantic increases," he said, "because if rates go up that high, water use will go through the floor, and the whole purpose of the Lake Powell Pipeline makes it completely unnecessary."

The Colorado River Compact, which is the basic document used to allocate water among the seven states and Mexico, originally was signed in 1922. It most recently was updated in 2019 to reflect the realities of a decades-long drought in the region.

The letter is online at documentcloud.org, and the project profile is at lpputah.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT