Utah delegation asks Trump for ‘expedited’ review of Lake Powell Pipeline

Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Utah’s congressional delegation is asking President Trump to expedite approval of the Lake Powell Pipeline. Conservationists, however, are crying foul.

The controversial 140-mile pipeline would carry 86,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Washington and Kane counties and is under consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

Letter from Utah’s congressional delegation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission | St. George News, click to enlarge

Read more: Proposed Lake Powell Pipeline approval inches closer

Conservationists say the pipeline is not needed, would be too expensive and would rely on Colorado River water that may not be available in the near future.

State and local water officials say the pipeline is essential to support a growing population in the St. George area – a population which will more than quadruple over the next 50 years, according to information from the Washington County Water Conservancy District.

The WCWCD estimates the cost of the project at $1.4 billion, “one of the most cost-effective options.” However, opponents believe the cost will be much higher.

The letter, dated March 23 and received by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission June 12, was signed by Utah’s entire Congressional delegation.

“It is imperative that the review process be completed by 2018,” the letter states, and asks Trump to designate the pipeline a “high priority” infrastructure project with expedited environmental reviews and approvals.

Approval is needed from FERC, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The letter claims the pipeline will create 90,000 jobs – 8,000 of which will be direct construction jobs – and generate more than $19 billion in increased sales tax.


The request seems to meet the intent of President Trump’s executive order 13766, which authorizes expedited environmental review of infrastructure projects, Tom Butine, president of the local conservation group Conserve Southwest Utah, said.

“So far, the planning for this project has consumed $32 million over 10 years,” Butine said. “In spite of this huge expense, the planning has neglected to answer basic questions addressing need and feasibility.” Butine said he still has the following questions:

  • Why don’t we become good stewards of the abundant water we have before we look for expensive, risky water elsewhere?
  • Why don’t we have real water conservation plans as required by state law?
  • Is the LPP (Lake Powell Pipeline) affordable?
  • How secure is the water right; under what conditions will the LPP water be reduced?
  • Why can’t the people who will be paying for the LPP have a say in whether to build it or not, based on facts?

“In their letter to the president, the Senators Lee and Hatch make several unsubstantiated claims about the employment and economic benefits of the pipeline, yet ignore these fundamental questions,” Butine said.

“Our senators are addressing the wrong problem. It is not expediting the federal approval. It’s determining if the pipeline makes any sense.”

Calling the pipeline a “boondoggle,” Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zachary Frankel said the Utah agency proposing the pipeline has already requested three extensions from FERC because of concerns about whether the project is needed.

“The Utah Division of Water Resources was forced back to the drawing board when one of the Utah counties slated to receive LPP water officially backed out of the project, citing the high cost of water and availability of other water sources,” Frankel said.

“In spite of the state of Utah’s six-year delay of its own project, the Utah delegation has requested an expedited review, perhaps to help create optics that the project is needed. The Division of Water Resources still hasn’t submitted all the necessary paperwork for FERC to evaluate the project, as of June 2017.”

St. George-area residents have the highest per-person water use in the U.S., Frankel said, using more than twice the U.S. average and significantly more than Las Vegas.

Many believe less expensive alternatives exist that are being ignored, in favor of spending billions of tax dollars,” he said.

Although the Utah delegation claims in their letter the project costs would be repaid by the recipients of the water in St. George, a series of stinging economic analyses prepared by over 20 economists from four Utah universities over the last 5 years rebuke that claim, Frankel said.

Read more: Soaring water rates inevitable if Lake Powell pipeline is built, economists say

“All Utahns will pay $3 billion-$4 billion in debt for this unnecessary pork barrel pipeline and never get repaid by the 5 percent of the state population slated to get this water, if the water ever arrives,” Frankel said.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • Not_So_Much June 20, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Who is going to benefit financially from this? Will the population grow as stated if there isn’t enough water for them? What is the reason to expedite the review again? If only the end users had to pay for this (with 50% up front) would it still be built? Can we see how higher rates, fines and incentives will work first?

    • comments June 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      I don’t think there’s any way in hell this county could ever pay off that kind of debt in my lifetime.

    • jaybird June 20, 2017 at 9:41 pm

      Hatch’s brother Tom coauthored the pipeline bill from the state senate. So I guess we can all presume the Hatch family will benefit. O Hatch basically runs this state anyway.

  • Utahguns June 20, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    The Colorado River is a critical source of irrigation and urban water for southern California, providing between 55 and 65 percent of the total supply. Why do we have to keep feeding this overgrown, overpopulated state that is a magnet for illegals, has one of the highest tax rates, property prices and who can’t manage their budgets? Also, why doesn’t California put more emphasis on desalinization technologies?

    The author uses a quote, ststing that St. George-area residents have the highest per-person water use in the U.S., using more than twice the U.S. average and significantly more than Las Vegas.
    Really? Let’s see the comparison of pool owners and lavish fountains in St. George versus Las Vegas? There’s over 2.2 million residents in Clark County (Las Vegas area) compared to 160,000 in the entire Washington County area. The author needs to go back to school on this statement.

    There’s plenty of reasons from those supporting and opposing this pipeline. There’s also been plenty of warring skirmishes throughout history over water.
    I’m somewhat confident a rational, objective and constructive decision will come of this.
    But, I sincerely hope that the citizens of Utah will be able to journey through the hype, rumors and fake news to determine what’s best for us, our economy and the environment.

    • Brian June 20, 2017 at 3:41 pm

      I think you’re missing the “per-person” part. The fact that one has 2.2 million residents and one has 160,000 is entirely irrelevant when you’re looking at per-capita usage. And I’m guessing those figures are comparing residential to residential, and exclude the strip, casinos, etc with their fancy water features. Once you realize that it’s easy to see how the average Vegas resident could use less water than the average Washington County resident. They have way more xeriscaping (aka zero-scaping) than we do, higher density housing, smaller average lot size, and WAY more regulations on water usage.

      • Utahguns June 20, 2017 at 7:16 pm

        You do bring up a good point.
        If (and only “if”) your info is correct, then I stand corrected.

        • Chris June 21, 2017 at 2:07 pm

          Duh! Brian is most certainly correct, and you are a little slow on the draw. Somebody has not much done numerical analysis in his life.

      • Chris June 21, 2017 at 2:09 pm

        his also missing the fact the water features in Vegas use grey water, as do nearly every other non-culinary water usage.

    • jaybird June 20, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      We wont be making that decision, Utahguns. Dont flatter that proposition.

  • comments June 20, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Well now, if they can get every citizen of the state on the hook for this thing that will work out in our favor. Figure 6-10 billion dollars for completion. It really is a massive project and unprecedented for something that would only be funded only countywide. It’s even a massive project for only state funding. I just don’t want to see special local levies imposed on us to pay for it all. I also don’t want my property taxes to double or triple to pay for it along with doubling or tripling or more of water rates. To continue building more golf courses and water-intensive resort type deals we will need the big pipe. The only question is how badly will our UT political elites screw us (the citizens) over to get it?

    • Howard Sierer June 20, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      I am an opponent of the pipeline and have written an opinion column opposing it. But allow me to correct a misstatement in your comment. All golf courses (and most schools and parks) in Washington County irrigate with secondary water: non-potable well water and sewage treatment plant output. No new golf course will be built using potable water. Golf courses are not a reason to oppose the pipeline. Excessive growth and all the ills that come with it are good reasons, along with cost and the uncertainty of adequate Colorado River water.

      • comments June 20, 2017 at 7:15 pm

        Yes, good points about the use of recycled water,etc. But so many lawns and landscaping do use potable water. I think the growth will happen no matter the opposition just because of the cash to be made, it’s unstoppable. I think the pipe has a very good chance of happening, and if they want 400-500,000 people in this county it’ll have to happen, no question, but how they plan to pay for the thing scares me. No question it’s gonna sting. The question is how deep will they stick the knife in. It’ll be interesting. 🙂

    • jaybird June 20, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Yes. And on top of that healthcare premiums to skyrocket. We’ll most of us be broke, thinking of moving to Mexico.

  • Conserve June 20, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    The reasoning behind this pipeline is once again greed. If we don’t build the pipeline we can’t continue to build, developers and politicians wealth will be slowed, oh my. If the natural resources of the community are already stressed, that’s a clue. Maybe we should listen to the clue?

  • Brian June 20, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    “Conservationists, however, are crying foul.”

    Any real conservative should be crying foul. This is a massive, unneeded project being forced upon an unwilling electorate by elected officials with their hands in the pie and power and wealth to gain. The entire thing is dirty and corrupt. You only need to look at how they’re approaching it to know that. Let’s have an open dialogue about it and let the people vote. While we’re at it, let us vote on disbanding the corrupt, self-serving WCWCD and it’s king while we’re at it.

    • comments June 20, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      yep, agree Brian

    • JJ June 20, 2017 at 8:40 pm

      Not really, conservatives shouldn’t be against this because it’s conservatives who are pushing it, and in our country we have political tribes we belong to and we’re supposed to be loyal to them and support them no matter what they do. This is our team winning, I guess. I’ll just defer to their authority and close my eyes to everything that’s going on.

      • comments June 21, 2017 at 11:50 am

        When there’s this much money to be made (hundreds of millions$$$) all “conservative values” go right out the window. It’s just pure greed that drives the wcwcd’s agenda.

  • Henry June 20, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Another expensive boondoggle that ignores the fact that growth for growth’s sake isn’t always in the. Eat interest of all. The sandy bottom of Lake Powell absorbs millions of Gallo s of water & now they want to waste more on unnecessary growth?

    • tcrider June 21, 2017 at 8:44 am

      maybe the sandy bottom of Lake Powell supplies a large aquafer that supports a very large region.

  • Bender June 20, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    As soon as rates go up enough to cover construction and O&M (operation and maintenance) costs of the pipeline, water consumption will drop and the the finances will enter a death spiral. Better to raise rates now and get rid of most of the property tax and impact fee charges. This will drastically lower consumption and make enough water available to allow us to delay construction of pipeline decades and still grow at past historic rates. At that point the tax base will be large enough that we will be able to afford it and will have a better grasp of the impact of climate change on Colorado River Basin hydrology.

    • Henry June 21, 2017 at 11:56 am

      Fully concur with your argument. We first need to drastically lower our water consumption, before we talk about building a pipeline from Lake Powell.

      • comments June 21, 2017 at 3:23 pm

        Yep, water conservation and ripping out big water-sucking lawns would make a drastic savings in water use. I hear people talk about golf courses using non-potable and grey water like it’s such a great thing. I say it’s still a waste and golf courses are the biggest waste of all. I say there’s better uses for recycled water. You just wait, H, if these greedy clowns who rule over us in this county get their way they’d try to gut us with this thing, and by that I mean they will double all of our property taxes to start. They’ll even up the sales taxes to pay for this monster. We all gotta keep an eye on these greedy clowns. I might even get active in the political opposition when the time comes, and for all of you who are active, keep up the good work. These clown politicians and clown at the wcwcd need their feet held to the fire at every turn. Their greed needs to be contained.

        • Henry June 21, 2017 at 5:38 pm

          I don’t profess to be well versed on this issue. But it seems that one positive first step would be to reintroduce a version of SB151, a proposed bill that died in committee in the Utah legislature early in the year.

          It would’ve prohibited water districts from getting more than 15% of their revenue from property taxes, forcing districts to raise their water rates or find other ways to make up the difference. It seems this would force water rates to more accurately reflect supply-and-demand realities, than subsidizing use of a scarce resource.

  • January20 June 20, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    This article belongs on the opinion page. It is poorly written since the author only sought out the opinions of two environmentalists who always have an ax to grind about any development in southern Utah. Where are the comments from our county commissioners and all the county’s mayors that serve on the board? Fake news indeed. I’ve lived here for almost 6 decades and every major water project ever proposed and built was met with some opposition and wondering how it would be paid for. I for one am grateful for those individuals that recognized some things are worth sacrificing for and went ahead and developed water resources for this area. By the way, if they hadn’t none of the whiners above would be living here today to complain about this proposed project.

    • Chris June 21, 2017 at 2:12 pm

      “our county commissioners and all the county’s mayors that serve on the board” They are the biggest bunch of crooked liars in this community, and no one should pay heed to their opinions. They are owned, from top to bottom, by the development interests.

  • utahdiablo June 20, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    And yet a few weeks ago Nevada Legislators were asking to dismantle the Glen Canyon Dam, so maybe this is why our greedy “elected” officals are pushing this to onto Trump? Here’s the dismantle story if you missed it… http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=14&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjF5arN9M3UAhUF4GMKHfWlBi4QFghgMA0&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffox13now.com%2F2017%2F06%2F02%2Fnevada-legislature-takes-serious-look-at-tearing-down-glen-canyon-dam%2F&usg=AFQjCNGPowzeFgY9w7wUi287P4Nnot4-_A

  • lisar June 20, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    Conserve Southwest Utah (www.conserveswu.org) has produced the “2017 LPP Update” to help citizens understand the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project and to present a different take on it than citizens get from the Washington County Water Conservancy District and the state Division of Water Resources. I suggest citizens check it out at this link: http://conserveswu.org/wp-content/uploads/Lake-Powell-Pipeline-UPDATE.pdf. CSU’s board, staff and advisors have studied the project since the Lake Powell Pipeline Act was passed in 2006, including reviewing the state’s pipeline study reports submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that’s charged with the project’s licensing.

    • comments June 21, 2017 at 11:48 am

      With billions of dollars on the line they will never ever let it go. The best we can do is continually oppose them

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