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What's Happening with the Lake Powell Pipeline?

The licensing of the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) continues, but challenges persist. Conserve Southwest Utah (CSU) continues to track this project closely for our members. Utah’s Division of Water Resources (DWRe, the sponsoring agency for the state) has asked many times for extensions to provide information for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, the lead federal licensing agency) hydropower license.  FERC has asked Utah to provide answers to questions we and others have been asking repeatedly. Unfortunately, FERC has approved the project to move forward to an Environmental Impact Study process anyway, without these answers. But another problem surfaced recently: confusion about which federal agency has jurisdiction over the 50-mile segment of the pipeline linking the hydropower generating stations. This has stopped the latest commenting process.  See article at http://conserveswu.org/wp-content/uploads/FERC-Federal-regulators-hit-pause-on-Lake-Powell-Pipeline.docx.
 
FERC has specifically asked Utah for: (a) an estimate of the cost that would be allocated to water districts and between existing and new water users, and (b) an estimate of the financial feasibility of the project, including potential fiscal impacts on the state for funding the project.  The state has only partially answered (a), saying our property taxes, rates and fees will be increased, but not for whom or by how much, and that the state will service the bond until local users can handle it.  This creates a huge interest balloon.  On question (b), the state says a final determination of “the capacity of project beneficiaries” (us) to fully repay the state, with interest, will not be determined until the project is approved.  This kicks the answer down the road.  The state should identify the project’s high- and low-cost range and work with the cities to determine how those cost would be repaid, now.  There is no logical reason to delay this determination.

Utah has spent over $30 million so far yet they still refuse to disclose a repayment plan for those who will be making the payment. This calls into question the basic concept for this project and the concerns that remain unaddressed:

  • Utah over-estimates Washington County’s need for water using flawed data, declaring we need about an acre-foot per home, which is double or triple the other Colorado River states.  And the state ignores many local water sources in Washington County, and cheaper alternatives to the pipeline, overestimating their cost to make the LPP appear more reasonable.
  • Economists have pointed out that the financing scheme creates a bubble of interest payments that dramatically increases the cost for current residents and places a huge burden on future generations.  The $600M “pumped storage” facility, a proposed money-making scheme whereby a new reservoir that would be pumped full at night when electricity rates are cheap and then emptied through generators during the day when rates are high, must be locally financed.  It also cannot be afforded and is not a money-maker as power costs from a pumped storage project are much higher than what can be purchased on the market.
  • The Lake Powell Pipeline water right is not secured.  It is planned to come from a transfer of a Green River right, but this is not yet even negotiated or agreed to be secure, and emanates from a 1957 water right that is junior to Central Utah Project, meaning in a shortage the water goes to Central Utah Project and any other water right holder before 1957.  See at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/provo/index.html and https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2017/12/10/mgk-negotiations-begin-for-water-exchange-key-to-the-lake-powell-pipeline/#.WlwMokxFyHE).  Reliance on the Colorado River to provide the water for the project for the next 50 years is not sustainable as the river is projected to have long-term declining flows.  Utah ignores the risk. (see the Udall study http://conserveswu.org/wp-content/uploads/Udall_et_al-2017-Water_Resources_Research.pdf).

The risk of the LPP’s water right and the power of conservation continue to be on-going issues.  Our leaders are reluctant to tell us how to conserve water, yet they show no reluctance in committing us to a risky, unaffordable pipeline.  The state fears our share of the Colorado River will be gone if we wait, but in reality, it is gone now.  The river has always flowed less than the states sharing it assume, and it is predicted to dramatically decrease.  Reductions in draws will be forced, and those drawing last will be left holding an empty straw.  A second, independent water supply would be terrific, but wishing for it will not make it so. 
 
Long ago we should have become good stewards of our water.  We should have understood the risk of relying on the Colorado River, and what we can afford to pay for water while still retaining the community we want to have.  It’s not too late.  But our leaders don’t want to hear the questions.  And there is no plan to ask for taxpayer approval. 
 
Next steps? After the decision from FERC on who has jurisdiction over the pipeline (unknown timing), there will be a 60-day comment period on the hydropower license, followed by a 45-day FERC response period. Then the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) begins.  Many steps remain, with at least one more public comment period.  After detail design, bidding, and bonding of the debt, if our leaders continue their support, construction would start. 
 
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