This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
There are myriad unanswered questions surrounding the proposed Lake Powell pipeline. The most obvious: Will there be enough water in Powell to provide an additional 100,000 acre-feet annually to three Utah counties?
Climate change is a fact, and scientists predict that the American Southwest will be hit especially hard by warming temperatures. Less snowpack will undoubtedly lower the Colorado River's ability to fill Powell and its southern reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada.
Utah has a right under the Colorado River Compact to the additional water, but a share of much less could be very little.
This question can hardly be answered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And yet this agency, which directs nationwide power generation and distribution, will oversee the environmental studies of this billion-dollar water project, at the request of the Utah Department of Water Resources.
Installing a 158-mile-long, 66-inch-diameter underground pipeline from Lake Powell to Washington County and a 38-mile-long, 30-inch pipeline from Washington to Iron County would have a tremendous impact on the three-county area. An environmental assessment will have to look at the area's geology, both surface water and groundwater, fish and wildlife, recreation. aesthetics, archaeology and economics, areas in which FERC has little knowledge.
Putting FERC in charge doesn't make sense, unless pipeline promoters are hoping for a less-than-thorough environmental impact assessment to speed federal approval for the project. That would be a terrible injustice to Utahns who would have to pay the costs, despite any shortfall of water to fill the pipes or damage to the environment.
Even FERC admits it is qualified only to approve the several power stations along the pipeline route. Piping the water uphill from the reservoir will use more power than those small stations can generate. Obviously, this is not a power project.
FERC does not have the expertise in water projects to oversee a comprehensive environmental study that looks at all possible alternatives for the pipeline, including not building it.
With careful conservation, Washington County already has enough water to supply an additional half-million residents. Considering the uncertain future climate of the region, forging ahead with the pipeline, with FERC at the helm, could be disastrous.