This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Let's cut to the chase. If we're going to have a Lake Powell Pipeline, all Utahns are going to pay for it.
Pipeline proponents' unwillingness to admit that has resulted in a frustrating and pointless chase for public information from a public institution. Specifically, the Washington County Water Conservancy District, whose customers would receive the bulk of the water from the pipeline, has refused to release information about how it would go about paying for it. The state records committee this week ordered the release in response to a Utah Rivers Council request, but the district says it may go to court to keep from complying.
Its argument? It doesn't really have that information. It was just a consultant flashing a presentation, and the information belongs to the consultant, not the district.
What? A public entity hires a consultant to provide analysis, but only by flashing it on a screen?
Even more mysterious, the consultant says there really isn't a payment model, "It's sort of commonly referred to as a model, but it's really a constantly evolving set of calculations. It's not one thing. It's not one file that someone can send."
Whatever this shape-shifting payment plan is, it hasn't stopped the district from claiming they can complete this $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion project with a mere $52 a year from their water users.
It doesn't take an economist to prove that is bogus, but there happen to be some from the University of Utah who have done exactly that. They say district customers are looking at more like a 576 percent water rate increase that would need to go on for decades to pay it off if they didn't get outside funding. Some of those economists' assumptions have raised questions, but that's because they've actually shared it. It's a file you can send and everything.
Utahns are already well into the debate over the Lake Powell Pipeline, and it's complicated. Utah can claim millions of gallons of Colorado River under decades-old agreements, but it would need build a pipe to get it to the rapidly growing population in hottest, driest part of the state.
And that population is already perhaps the most water-consumptive community in the country. Even Las Vegas, with all its fountains and fairways, consumes far less per person. And with climate change looming, the Colorado's flows are expected to slow. Will Utah ever see its full allocation? At least California uses Colorado River water to grow our lettuce. Can Washington County claim to be similarly serving the nation?
Make no mistake. All Utahns have a financial stake in this. If and when the payment model finally emerges for the Lake Powell Pipeline, it will certainly be more than just southern Utahns expected to pay. There is nothing on a consultant's laptop that is going to change that.