Utah water-use data study underway

Utah water-use data study underway

Two Utah engineering firms are partnering to improve the quality of water-use data in the state.  The firms will use a $300,000 contract with the state to analyze how the Division of Water Resources can improve its data collection.

Water-use data is more important than ever

Utah is one of the driest states in the nation; usually only second to Nevada.  With a population that is expected to nearly double by 2060, meeting Utah’s growing water needs is a major concern.  Water-use data is paramount to project water needs in the decades to come.  Improving data collection can help Utah manage its limited resources.

However, a 2015 Legislative audit found that a patchwork of 475 community water systems were not always accountable or accurate in submitting water-use data.  Records showed that one community in the Bear River basin had not reported any data since 2002.  Other communities failed to break out categories for water use, relied on estimates when meters were unavailable, or simply got calculations wrong.

 Efforts to improve water-use data collection

Since then, state legislators have acted to give regulators more power to force systems to report.  In 2016 the Division of Water Rights received additional funding to put an employee in the field.  The goal is to work with public water providers to encourage reporting and identify obstacles.  Additionally, Utah lawmakers directed the Division of Drinking Water to develop a point system.  Water providers are assessed points if they fail to report water-use data, or if the data is falsified.  With enough points, the water system could be deemed unsafe.

Improving water-use data will also help the state develop new water resources.  Utah is working to initiate two large water development projects.  The Lake Powell pipeline and plans to divert water from Bear River could help with Utah’s water demands.  However both plans have met with some resistance.  The high cost and potential environmental concerns have brought the projects under close scrutiny.  Governor Gary Herbert has made it clear that improving water-use data collecting is a prerequisite to large water resource development.

Both engineering firms are helping the Division of Water Resources analyze the 2015 data. They are expected to present a report to the division sometime in December.  The report should help Utah revisit those numbers and improve collection of water-use data going forward.

Lake Powell Pipeline Route

Lake Powell Pipeline Project applies for federal approval

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

Copyright 2016

Lake Powell Pipeline project flooded by newly passed legislation

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