The Lake Powell Pipeline may have just received some of the financial backing it has been looking for. In a recent Utah water law posting, we recapped the significant water law legislation that had been introduced during the 2016 General Session of the 61st Utah State Legislature. Of those water bills introduced during the 2016 session, SB 80 seemed to garner the most attention, and its passage could jump start the Lake Powell Pipeline project.
Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act
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.
Pipeline Project has Been Contentious From Start
The Lake Powell Pipeline project has been contentious since the passage of the LPPDA in 2006. On one side of the argument you have the proponents of the project who believe the pipeline is essential to addressing the growing water need of southwestern Utah. Proponents include people like Todd Adams, the deputy director of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, who say that St. George has already exhausted other alternatives for securing the necessary water, including water conservation. Mr. Adams says the Lake Powell pipeline project is part of a “multi-faceted” approach to solving the water problem. “We’ve got to conserve, we’ve got to improve efficiency, and we’ve got to develop new water,” Mr. Adams says.
On the other side of the argument, opponents of the pipeline say the project is outdated and unnecessary. In October of last year, sent a letter to Utah lawmakers, which questioned the economic viability of the project. The economists argued that southwest Utah’s communities are too small to be able to repay any debts associated with their portions of the projected $2 billion price tag.
There is also the problem of climate change opponents of the pipeline say. Studies predict that by 2050, the Colorado River’s flow will decrease from between 10 to 30 percent. This means that even current diversions from the Colorado River, let alone the massive diversion planned by the pipeline project, will not be sustainable if the projections are correct.
SB 80 Passes Into Law
However, it appears that the proponents of the Lake Powell Pipeline may have just scored a victory in their fight to see their “pipeline” dream become a reality. SB 80, entitled Infrastructure Funding Amendments, sought to divert approximately $35 million from a transportation investment fund to water development. While not aimed specifically at the Lake Powell Pipeline project, proponents and opponents of the project alike believe the diverted funds will be wholly dumped into the project in hopes of catalyzing the slow-moving and contentious project along.
SB 80 passed both the Senate (19-0 vote) and the House, and is now set to be enrolled into law. Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who sponsored the bill, said there are three areas of infrastructure that are vital to Utah: education, roads and water. The Infrastructure Funding Amendments set aside money primarily for water projects, something that should have been done long ago, he said.
“For whatever reason, in the northern part of Utah, people have ignored water. In Southern Utah … because of your water needs down there you’ve been more focused on it,” Senator Adams said. “If we get stuck on the freeway, everybody gets frustrated if they’re stuck in traffic, but when you can’t get a drink of water, I think the frustration’s going to be pretty high.”
* Photo cred.: kuer.org