Lake Powell Pipeline project flooded by newly passed legislation

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On the other side of the argument, opponents of the pipeline say the project is outdated and unnecessary.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.”

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Water law legislative update 2016

water lawThe 2016 General Session of the 61st Utah State Legislature is nearing its conclusion.  The legislative session concludes on March 10, 2016.  During this year’s session, numerous water law related bills have been introduced, three of which are of particular interest.

Water Law – Protected Purchaser Amendments

The first of these water law bills, SB 23, entitled Water Law – Protected Purchaser Amendments, was introduced by Senator Margaret Dayton in the Utah Senate and was sponsored by Representative Keith Grover.  SB 23 aims to protect water rights owners that have in fact paid their assessments but cannot produce the original documentation of their water rights.

SB 23 also protects existing water rights owners from other persons who may find documentation of water rights and claim ownership when no assessments have been paid.  Under the terms of the bill, if assessments have been paid for at least four of the last seven years, then those water rights are protected.  As a result, paper water rights cannot exceed actual water rights that are being currently paid for and managed correctly.

SB 23 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-0, and passed the House by a vote of 67-8.  The bill is currently awaiting enrollment.

Water System Conservation Pricing

The second notable water law bill, SB 28, entitled Water System Conservation Pricing, was introduced by Senator Scott K. Jenkins and was sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  SB 28 seeks to lower water usage in Utah through tiered consumption pricing.  Under the bill, rates that Utahns will pay will rise according to different tiers of water consumption.  For instance, Senator Howard Stephenson said he received a water bill for $1,000 because he was not aware of the shift to a tiered consumption pricing system.  Senator Stephenson said that once he was aware of the tiered pricing system, he became more conscientious about his water usage, and, as a result, his next bill was only $90.  The tiered consumption pricing will help Utah to be better prepared to sustain an ever-growing population by conserving water through tiered consumption pricing.

Also under SB 28, retail water providers must provide in customers’ billing notices, or in an annual notice to customers, the block unit rates the retail water provider has established and the customer’s billing cycle, as well including the customer’s water usage in any billing notices.  This way, customers are fully aware of what pricing they will incur regarding their water usage, and customers will also be made aware of what their current water usage is for each billing cycle.

SB 28 passed the Senate by a vote of 26-2, with one senator absent or not voting, and passed the House by a vote of 64-9, with two representatives absent or not voting.  SB 28 is currently awaiting enrollment.

Infrastructure Funding Amendments

The final notable water law bill is SB 80, entitled Infrastructure Funding Amendments, which was introduced by Senator J. Stuart Adams and sponsored by Representative Lee B. Perry.  SB 80 is intended to create a water infrastructure fund.  The water infrastructure fund would be funded by money from certain sales and tax revenue that was originally deposited in the Transportation Fund.

The Utah Legislature took public comments on SB 80 in the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee, which comments expressed concern that this money would be used on projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline.  Senator Adams, said the fund, at least initially, would be a revolving fund intended to help local water authorities improve their outdated infrastructure.

SB 80 passed out of the committee with a favorable recommendation on a 5-0 vote, with two senators absent or not voting, and was thereafter debated on the Senate floor, passing with by a 19-0 vote, with ten senators absent or not voting.  SB 80 is now set to be on the House floor for a vote after receiving a favorable recommendation from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on a 7-1, with five representatives absent or not voting.