Committee puts Lake Powell pipeline on hold
More study • Lawmaker asks for report on private enterprise funding.
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A proposed bill that would loan money to Washington County to build the controversial 129-mile Lake Powell pipeline to St. George was put on hold Wednesday in the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee.

The delay comes not from concerns about whether the pipeline is needed — as its opponents voiced in meetings Tuesday.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, started, and essentially ended, expected debate about the bill by pointing out that not enough information has been gathered about the possibility of private enterprise funding water projects across the state, including the Lake Powell pipeline.

The Sales and Use Tax Allocations for Water Resources Funding bill would earmark 15 percent of future growth in state sales-tax revenues for water development. The money, as bill sponsor Rep. Patrick Painter, R-Nephi, has frequently pointed out, would not be given to water agencies but loaned with interest charged.

"I agree 100 percent to develop water projects, including Lake Powell, we have to exploit whatever water we can and the earlier the better," Stephenson told Painter. "What I have to hear you prove to me is that capital markets are not willing to provide money to these entities. I'd hate for the state taxpayers to be the bank when the markets may already do that."

Estimates for the Lake Powell pipeline range from $1.3 billion to $2.7 billion for construction alone. Opponents wonder how big projects such as the pipeline could realistically be paid for by water providers.

A group of economics professors from the University of Utah sent a letter to the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee on Tuesday about the bill and what they see as its economic faults.

The committee asked staff to look deeper into the possibility of having private groups fund water projects in Utah and asked for reports to be presented in October.