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The Washington County Water Conservancy District must publicly release its draft Lake Powell Pipeline payment model, according to a Thursday decision of the Utah Records Committee.

The records committee determined that although the Washington County Water Conservancy District may not possess a copy of the payment model, it likely has access to one.

"It seems to me that this is a major effort to get some initial [cost] estimates that are being used, and that people need to have access to what those assumptions were in order to respond," said Marie Cornwall, a citizen representative on the committee. "There's no question that this should be public, in my mind."

The most recent estimates put the cost of constructing the Lake Powell Pipeline in the range of $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion. Officials with Washington County's water district have pointed to their payment model to rebut a study released by economists from the University of Utah that concluded that Washington County would have to raise impact fees by at least 123 percent and raise water rates by 576 percent to pay off the pipeline debt.

And news reports repeatedly cited a financial model commissioned by the district as indicating the pipeline could be funded by a water-rate increase of just 28 cents, or about $52 per year for most customers.

But when the Utah Rivers Council requested access to the model under the state Government Records Access and Management Act, the district — one of the parties required by the 2006 Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act to come up with a way to pay for the pipeline project — responded that it could not fulfill the request because it did not have the requested records.

After reviewing information it requested during the initial hearing last month, the records committee decided that an agreement with the district's contractor suggests that Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas firm, retained a copy of the payment model — evidently created to facilitate a series of interactive presentations in 2013 — and that the district has access to it. After a brief discussion, the records committee voted unanimously in favor of releasing the records.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, which opposes the pipeline project, said he was elated by the committee's decision, which he hoped would end the water district's "shell game."

But Thursday's decision may not be the end of the payment plan debate. Decisions of the state records committee are subject to a 30-day appeal period.

During the hearing, legal counsel for the Washington County Water Conservancy District held that the district does not possess a copy of the model and that, consequently, the model is not a discoverable document under Utah law.

After the hearing, a representative of the district said they will weigh whether to appeal after receiving the committee's official order, expected within seven business days.

Additionally, the consultant who developed the model has said it's a fallacy to believe there is a single file or document that can be released.

"It's sort of commonly referred to as a model, but it's really a constantly evolving set of calculations," said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Applied Analysis. "It's not one thing. It's not one file that someone can send."

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