Thompson: St. George deserves a pipeline
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Disappointment for homeowners is turning the tap and no water gushes forth. Water managers are responsible for providing citizens adequate water — today and into the future.

Water development, delivery and conservation are complicated issues. Apparently so complicated that often, facts, figures and necessary projects are misunderstood and misrepresented, as evidenced by recent Salt Lake Tribune letters to the editor and editorials ("Empty straw: Lake Powell Pipeline isn't prudent," Opinion, July 1).

As water managers, we would be negligent if we didn't correct the misstatements of a few that could confuse so many.

First, Washington County households use about 120 gallons of water per capita per day (gcpd). Recently, The Tribune printed a letter that erroneously cited residential use of 276 gcpd, which includes water used by hotels, restaurants and parks. Message integrity requires that we use accurate numbers reflecting where water is utilized and by which constituents.

Second, in 1996 Washington County Water Conservancy District was the first in Utah to begin a water conservation program.

Residential water use has dropped by over 13 percent and we're pushing for 25 percent overall. Even with increased conservation, though, we must provide more water to meet our needs.

Third, why the Lake Powell Pipeline? Southern Utah is running out of available water. Even with drastic conservation, resources will not meet the needs of our people past the 2020s.

The Virgin River, what you may call our "first straw," provides close to 50 percent of our residential water. In a severe drought, the Virgin would dry up long before the Colorado River showed a significant drop.

So, if the study that The Tribune touts is reliable, then however depleted the Colorado is, we'll need that "second straw" even more to fill our reservoirs and aquifers in advance. In Washington County, the driest in Utah, we do recognize the possibility of drought every day.

The Tribune is right on some counts regarding the pipeline. It will deliver the fresh water legally allocated to Utah through the Colorado River Compact — water we have never diverted but have, in the past, sent downstream to Nevada, Arizona and California. For more than a century, those states have reaped economic benefits from Utah's water supply.

Diverting that water will bring jobs, clean energy, a stronger economy and shared tax base to all Utah residents while protecting the vulnerable population in one of the nation's driest spots.

This project includes a 138-mile pipeline, it is true. This is similar to our northern neighbors who, with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, divert water from the Colorado and its tributaries through thousands of miles of pipelines in order to deliver clean, safe water to millions of homes and businesses in central Utah. The Lake Powell Pipeline is following the example successfully set by the northern counties.

The proposed pipeline will require up-front financial assistance from the state, and our commitment is to pay back the loan as quickly as possible, just as we have done with the Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs. We keep our commitments.

Prudence means to foresee. While no one can foresee all that the future holds, we follow a broader definition of prudence: To be cautious; to be circumspect in determining actions and conduct; to be careful of consequences or actions; and to be frugal and economical.

Above all, prudence demands that we not turn our backs on a precious resource that rightfully belongs to the people of Utah — our children and their children — for many generations to come.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is the prudent choice to bring water to the people in southern Utah.

Ronald W. Thompson has been the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District for over 25 years and serves on the boards of several water-related organizations. He lives in St. George.