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St. George • Lawmakers and other state officials on Monday received a bird's-eye view of some of Utah's river drainages and mountain snowpacks and were impressed by what they saw and learned about water issues.
The legislators and others were invited aboard two state airplanes to learn from the air about Utah's water needs and projects being planned to meet those future demands.
Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said the flights were the first of their kind and were meant to give a more complete picture of the state's waterways, tributaries, diversions and developments.
"It was good for the legislators to see how complex the [water] systems are and know the issues," said Styler at the St. George airport, where the tour ended after leaving Lake Powell and flying the route of the proposed Lake Powell pipeline.
Earlier, the tour also stopped at Green River after checking out the Duchesne, Provo, Bear and Weber rivers before flying the Colorado River Drainage, beginning at Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Styler said they also flew over Utah's portion of the Navajo Reservation in southeastern Utah. The Legislature will be asked to pony up $8 million to seal a deal with the Utah Navajos to develop 81,500 acre-feet of water, which is the tribe's share from the Colorado River.
An acre-foot of water is equal to 326,000 gallons, about what a family of four uses in a year.
Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, said the flight was impressive and informative.
She said she learned how expansive and complex the state's water system is and how crucial it is to plan for the future.
She also pointed to how important it is to Utah's economy now and in the future when the state is sure to grow in population and demand for water.
"I'll probably support water projects quicker now," she said.
Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, was also impressed by what he saw from the plane.
"I saw a lot of snow and a lot of water," said Brown, adding he was particularly awed by the snowpack still covering parts of the state.
"The Uintas are pure white," he said. "And that's good."
Before the group flew back to Salt Lake City from St. George, Ron Thompson, the executive director of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, presented an update on the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, conceived to pipe water from Lake Powell across southern Utah to Sand Hollow Reservoir outside Hurricane.
He said the controversial pipeline that would deliver 70,000 acre-feet of water a year to Washington County, 10,000 acre-feet to Kane County and 20,000 acre-feet to Iron County is necessary to quench the water demands of the future.
Critics have stressed that the answer to future demands is conservation and not a pipeline, but Thompson said that conservation, while part of the solution, cannot alone solve the problems of anticipated growth.
He said the project involves a plethora of government agencies and is estimated to cost $1.1 billion to build. More than $20 million has already been spent for ongoing environmental studies.
Ideally, he said, he would like to see the state bond for construction and the conservancy district pay back the state primarily with future impact fees.
In response to fears that there might not be enough water in Lake Powell to meet the pipeline's demand, Thompson pointed out that even in drought years of the past decade, demands of downstream shareholders of Colorado River water were met.
"Lake Powell has the best water rights in the state," he said.