This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The recently released draft proposal for the Lake Powell Pipeline offers the most in-depth analysis of the project to date, but it may raise more questions than it answers.
And that's what state officials say it is supposed to do, with the document more than 1,300 pages long, not counting several hundred pages of supplementary material now up for public review and comment.
The Preliminary Licensing Proposal (PLP) describes in detail both how the pipeline might be constructed, and what Washington and Kane counties could do to come up with an equivalent amount of water 28 billion gallons a year if the pipeline were not built. But the PLP does not put a price tag on how much the pipeline's construction would cost or who, precisely, would foot the bill.
Gov. Gary Herbert called out the loosely defined financing plan when he announced his proposed 2016 budget last week, saying that, "out of respect to the taxpayer," it's necessary to further study the region's need for the pipeline and for how local water districts would fund the project.
As it stands, his report said, the state "would never be repaid and the ongoing allocation of tax revenues would create a permanent sizable state taxpayer subsidy for water development."
The Lake Powell Pipeline Act, passed in 2006, requires the recipients of the water the Kane and Washington county water conservancy districts to, within 50 years of when they begin taking the water, pay off at least 70 percent of the project costs.
And with that cost still up in the air, Herbert is asking for a closer look at the proposed project and recommending dedicating $6 million to study water use throughout the state. His report also requests "new and meaningful water conservation targets," greater transparency and independent validation of any research conducted.
But concern over cost is premature, said Joshua Palmer, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Water Resources. The PLP, he said, is simply an early draft document intended to compare economic, environmental and societal costs and benefits, not the monetary cost of the project or how those costs might be repaid.
The bulk of the document's main body is dedicated to technical descriptions of three different proposals for how the pipeline could be built.
All three options for the pipeline's construction call for:
• a subterranean water intake system on the west side of Lake Powell near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
• a pipeline that follows major highways across Utah and Arizona to deposit 86,249 acre-feet of water annually in Sand Hollow Reservoir near Hurricane
• hydroelectric power generators
• a series of transmission lines that would deliver the electricity to pump stations on the other end of the project.
The options referred to as alignments differ primarily in length and the routes they take around the Kaibab-Paiute Indian Reservation in Arizona. One alignment routes the pipeline south around the reservation, a second takes a shortcut directly through the reservation, and a third mostly circumvents the reservation except for a segment that crosses its southwest corner.
Though the PLP does not contain a cost estimate for any of the alignments, it does include an economic study that estimated the benefits of the pipeline and how much it would cost to maintain it for 50 years after it's built.
Depending on the economic variables considered, the study puts the economic cost of operating the pipeline in the range of $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion, or $2.6 to $3.2 billion.
The study estimated economic benefits revenue generated by jobs created by the pipeline, for example, or by economic growth that results from the availability of additional water to be in the range of $1.8 billion to $2.7 billion or $2.9 billion to $4.3 billion, again depending on the type of analysis used.
Palmer said the final operational costs of the pipeline could be lower, because the economic studies included with the PLP assumed the pipeline would be built with elements that might not be part of its actual construction, and stressed that the economic analysis from the PLP was extremely preliminary.
The PLP also imagines a world where the Lake Powell Pipeline is replaced by other water projects that would deliver the same amount of water to Kane and Washington counties. This course of action would involve:
• developing other surface and groundwater resources
• using reverse osmosis to make low-quality water supplies suitable for drinking
• eliminating outdoor potable water use in Washington County
According to the report, the technologies required to make this option a reality are feasible, but expensive the PLP put a conceptual price tag of $1.7 billion on this alternative, not including financing costs.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, called those conceptual costs ludicrous, and said the entire no-pipeline alternative was "a joke."
As an example, Frankel pointed to the proposed elimination of outdoor watering, which the PLP estimates would cost the Washington County Water Conservancy District $94 million. He said that cost was the equivalent of paying Washington County residents hundreds of thousands of dollars to stop watering their lawns.
"Maybe we should implement that and save ourselves a billion dollars, then," he said, "because I know every person down there would love to get a half million dollars … to remove their lawn. I bet they would jump on it."
Frankel said he believed the PLP's authors purposely looked for the most expensive alternate sources of water and then further inflated the cost estimates to create a sense of crisis, not offer a viable alternative. He said they ignored cheaper sources of water, such as agricultural water that could be converted for residential use,
"They are still ignoring a whole spectrum of cheaper alternatives," he said, "and by doing so they are running the water district into financial ruin."
Palmer said the Division of Water Resources intended all of the options presented in the PLP to be taken seriously. He said further agricultural conversion the PLP does anticipate the conversion of more than 10,000 acre feet of water was not included because the division did not want to appear as though it planned to force farmers off their lands.
Frankel pointed out that the Washington County Water Conservancy District's general manager, Ron Thompson, has already predicted the demise of local agriculture in the next 10 to 15 years, and that Washington County farmers already feel they are being pushed off their land.
The PLP's no-action alternative, its fifth and final option, says that if the state does nothing, the 86,249 acre feet of water, the right to which belongs to the state Board of Water Resources, would flow into Lake Powell and remain unused until it was released downstream. The projected growth of Washington County would continue, according to the report, "until water and other potential limiting resources such as developable land, electric power, and fuel begin to curtail economic activity and population in-migration."
In this scenario, if the population of Washington County continues to grow according to state projections, the PLP anticipates a water shortfall of 104,332 acre feet per year by 2060.
But Frankel said he thinks the state's real concern isn't curtailed growth or water shortages, but the possibility that downstream states would use water that technically belongs to Utah.
"It's a fair question to ask," Frankel said, "but that's something Utahns should be informed about. What they're really doing here is scaring people into believing that we are running out of water. But what's really happening is they're spending billions of dollars to prevent other states from using this water."
Frankel suggested that instead of building the Lake Powell Pipeline, the state could lease that water to Las Vegas.
"They would pay us millions every year, instead of this pathetic debt that we can't pay for," he said.
Nothing contained within the PLP is set in stone yet, Palmer said, and the Division of Water Resources is actively seeking feedback from the public.
The current draft of the PLP will undergo a 90-day public review and comment period, and the document will be revised according to public input. The final version is due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April.
The entire purpose of this preliminary draft, Palmer said, is to get the public talking about the pipeline.
"This is really about starting a discussion," he said. "We feel very strongly about people giving input and allowing the process to take place."
firstname.lastname@example.org About the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline
• Authorized by the Utah Legislature in 2006
• Expected to send 26.7 billion gallons of water annually to Washington County and 1.3 billion gallons annually to Kane County
• Would be built by the Utah Division of Water Resources
• Washington and Kane counties would repay the pipeline costs
• Could be built by 2025 To submit comments on the Lake Powell Pipeline PLP:
• Fill out the form at ferconline.ferc.gov/quickcomment.aspx.
• You will be emailed a link by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Open the link and input docket number P-12966.
• Write and submit your comments. Comments are limited to 6,000 characters.
The PLP documentation can be viewed at bit.ly/viewPLP (search for docket number P-12966), or downloaded via Dropbox at bit.ly/downloadPLP The state's Preliminary Licensing Proposal for the Lake Powell Pipeline includes no information on what it might cost to build the pipeline, but does provide other estimates:
Operating costs (over 50 years)
• $1.5 billion to $3.2 billion
Estimated economic benefits (job creation, developmental growth)
• $1.8 billion to $4.4 billion
Cost of using means other than a pipeline to provide Washington and Kane counties with the same amount of water
Source: Utah Division of Water Resources