Utah State officials have filed a licensing application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) over the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline Project. A copy of the licensing application materials (docket number P-12966) is or will be published shortly on FERC’s website.
Licensing Application Comes After Public Comment Period
The licensing application comes on the heels of a recent public comment period and review of the project proposal, which public comments were included in the licensing application documents. The licensing application also contains thousands of pages of approximately two dozen studies detailing the pipeline and its potential impacts, including from how the fresh water supply might drive the local economy to whether the pipeline itself might affect the natural environment.
A preliminary licensing proposal (“PLP”) was filed with FERC in early December 2015. There was a 90 day public review of the PLP, followed by a 60 day window for revisions after the PLP was submitted. The finalized PLP is now part of Exhibit E within the License Application. The PLP and draft study reports were updated during this period based on new available information, feedback from federal, state and regional agencies and input from the public.
“We received a lot of feedback on the (preliminary proposal), and we recognize the time and effort a lot of people and organizations put into it,” said Eric Millis, director of the Division of Water Resources. “We feel the license application is stronger as a result.”
Lake Powell Pipeline Project Established by LPPDA
In 2006, the Utah State Legislature passed what is known as the Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act (“LPPDA”). The LPPDA authorized the building of a pipeline from Lake Powell to southwestern Utah in order to meet growing water demands. The Lake Powell Pipeline, when completed, would pump 86,000 acre feet of water some 140 miles through a 69-inch diameter pipe and then up 2,000 feet up an over the mountains into the Sand Hollow Reservoir, thirteen miles west of St. George, Utah.
Currently, water supplies from the Colorado River are divided between the “upper basin” states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah and the “lower basin” of California, with Arizona and Nevada receiving portions of water from each basin. Under the Lake Powell Pipeline proposal, some of the aforementioned states may have to concede certain portions of their water supplies.
Utah State and Local Officials Say Lake Powell Pipeline is Necessary
Utah state and local water managers have argued that the already limited supplies offered by the Virgin River and its tributaries are likely to only become more limited because of climate change, and when coupled with exploding population in Southern Utah, make the Lake Powell Pipeline necessary.
The state is already about 10 years and $28 million worth of studies in the Lake Powell Pipeline Project. State officials say that the project will be paid for by the exploding population and economic growth in Southern Utah. The Lake Powell Pipeline is estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $3.2 billion.
FERC’s Decision on the Licensing Application Could Take More than Two Years
Now that the licensing application is in the hands of FERC it is anticipated that FERC will manage an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) process according to regulations outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), which allows for public input. Multiple alignment and route alternatives will be evaluated, which could have a significant impact on the size, scope and cost of the potential project. The EIS is anticipated to take at least two years from the time it is initiated to complete.
In addition to the federal licensing application, the Lake Powell Pipeline Project got a much-needed shot in the arm via recently passed legislation in the Utah State Legislature. The legislation, titled the “Infrastructure Funding Amendments,” diverted approximately $35 million from a State transportation fund to water development. While not aimed specifically at the Lake Powell Pipeline Project, both proponents and opponents of the project believe a majority of the diverted funds will be spent on the project.
Follow utahwaterlaw.com for Updates
While there appears to be greater financial backing for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project as a result of the passage of the “Infrastructure Funding Amendments,” as noted, it may take more than two years to know if the federal government will approve the project. That means it will likely be well past 2020 by the time any final designs are in place and construction can begin. C&J’s water law team will continue to follow the Lake Powell Pipeline Project, and we will provide updates as they become available.
* Photo Cred.: sltrib.com