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Arizona, Other States Battle Utah Over Water Pipeline Project

Water from the upper basin of the Colorado River is stored in 186-mile-long Lake Powell along the Utah-Arizona border. (shuvro ghose/Adobe Stock)
Water from the upper basin of the Colorado River is stored in 186-mile-long Lake Powell along the Utah-Arizona border. (shuvro ghose/Adobe Stock)
September 14, 2020

PAGE, Ariz. -- A group of Southwestern states, including Arizona, is threatening a lawsuit to halt a plan to divert billions of gallons of water from the upper basin of the Colorado River.

The water would go from Lake Powell to a Utah reservoir for use by the city of St. George.

Water officials in the states, along with a coalition of conservation groups, say the $2 billion, 140-mile pipeline is wasteful, too expensive, and could harm the environment.

But Zachary Frankel, executive director for the Utah Rivers Council, said main problem is the Colorado just doesn't have any more water to give.

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

Backers of the plan say Washington County needs the additional water to fuel economic growth in the area.

The project is backed by the Trump administration, which has fast-tracked the permit process in hopes of starting construction early next year.

In a letter to federal officials, the states claim existing agreements require congressional approval of any such additional taking of water. Frankel said St. George could easily meet its future water needs through conservation.

"There's a larger water supply in Washington County than Tucson has or Albuquerque has," Frankel said. "And by comparison, Washington County's population is only about 180,000 people."

Frankel believes the pipeline project would affect several of Utah's water partners, who draw their Colorado River allotments downstream.

"While residents of Las Vegas and Arizona are forgoing use of the Colorado River in 2020, why is it that Utah is adding insult to injury by diverting water on top of that, upstream?"

Under current rules, Arizona's 2020 allotment is 2.8 billion acre-feet of water from the lower Colorado River basin. But under the 2019 Drought Contingency Agreement, Arizona's annual take is reduced by about 7% until Lake Mead rises above 1,100 feet.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ