Utah has taken one more step on a path that could lead to spending at least a billion taxpayer dollars on a pipeline connected to a dry reservoir.
The State Water Development Commission this week gave a nod to legislation to pay for construction of the Lake Powell pipeline to carry water 129 miles from the shrinking reservoir to new homes in Washington County. Fortunately, the legislative Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee voted to put the proposal on hold, though not for the right reasons.
Committee members want to float the project to private investors. We doubt any would consider it after discovering its risks. But that would be better than taxing Utahns to pay for this boondoggle. As a taxpayer investment, it would be a huge mistake for several reasons.
First, St. George and its suburbs, while once one of the fastest growing areas in the country, is no longer attracting in-migration as it was during the housing boom.
Second, even if the area were to resume that kind of unparalleled expansion, there are other ways to provide the newcomers with water that make much more sense. Primarily, residents of this arid land must learn to conserve. They currently use many more gallons per person than do people living in other desert states such as Arizona.
Fees for water usage that reflect the scarcity of the precious resource would result in more conservation. Higher connection fees for new construction would also discourage the sprawling growth that is taxing present water supplies. Even some thirsty northern Utah communities charge more to hook into their water systems and for consumption than do communities in Washington County.
Lawns should be outlawed, but residents would make such landscaping and construction changes without being forced to if they had to pay the actual costs of water.
The third reason to toss the idea of a Lake Powell pipeline is the fact, which few Utah legislators and other officials want to accept, that the climate in the West is changing drastically and rapidly. Global warming is no hoax, and it is no joke. Lake Powell is below half its capacity with no reason to think it will do anything but shrink further.
That means there will be even more demand on Colorado River water than ever. The Colorado River Compact is outdated and will have to be renegotiated. But using that fact as a reason to fast-track the pipeline is wrongheaded. If the state were to take it on, Utah could easily end up with a several-billion-dollar pipeline from nowhere and a bum loan to repay.