This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

People in charge of securing Utah's future continue to flirt with the idea of building a $2 billion-plus pipeline to connect a lake that may not be there then with people who aren't here yet.

Others with a more global view are seriously considering draining Lake Powell, supposedly the saving source of water for far-away St. George via that proposed pipeline, in order to replenish the larger Lake Mead, which serves the people and agriculture of the already populous — and politically powerful — California.

Meanwhile, existing systems that deliver water through decaying pipes to people who already live in Utah have been allowed to fall behind by an estimated $18 billion in upkeep and repairs that will be needed over the next 40 years.

That figure has been called into question by watchdog groups and will have to be vetted. But, whatever the real figure, we should do a better job of saving for a rusty day.

In each case, people in charge are coveting a pool of state taxpayers' money that was created, in large part, to keep hiding the true cost of using way too much water in a desert.

Our state habit of funding large chunks of our water systems with tax money — local property taxes and, after the last session of the Legislature, a sliver of state sales tax income — may well help stabilize the revenue stream for water systems around this arid state.

But it also shifts much of the burden to homes and businesses, away from tax-exempt institutions — colleges, churches and governments — which, not entirely by coincidence, devote much of their property to green lawns.

Agriculture is also heavily subsidized by our current system. It all has the effect of artificially deflating water bills, which means less incentive for people to use less water.

Representatives of the state's water districts last week told a legislative committee that they were hoping to have maybe a fifth of the money needed for their system upgrades from a sales tax fund created in the last legislative session. And even if they get it, they said, water rates are likely to soar.

It's easy to find fault with the water districts for allowing themselves to rack up so much deferred maintenance. But diverting that sales tax revenue to softening the sticker shock for existing systems would be a much better use of the money than the reason that channel was likely created in the first place: The Lake Powell Pipeline boondoggle.

Letting Lake Powell shrink to near nothing would be a drastic step, taken only after years of scientific, political and legal wrangling. But now is no time to spend so much money to take water from a lake that may, by the time the pipeline would be ready, exist only in the history books.

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