OPINION — I was hoping that somehow, some way, this whole Lake Powell Pipeline nonsense would just go away. Unfortunately, the plan to pump 86,000 acre-feet of water 139 miles from the lake to St. George breathes on.
I thought this was a dumb idea years ago, and I have heard nothing since that would lead me to change my mind. In fact, I am even more strongly opposed to this ludicrous idea today than I was in the past.
This whole proposal is based on the idea that Southern Utah will, before too long, be a teeming metropolis with 300,000 to 500,000 people. That just isn’t going to happen. At least not in the foreseeable future.
First of all, there is nothing economically, culturally or aesthetically pleasing enough about the area to draw that many people.
Look, Southern Utah is a nice place, but not that nice.
More importantly, should this project, estimated to cost from $1.4 billion to $2.4 billion, go through, it could require a 138 percent hike in impact fees, which are already outlandish, and a 678 percent increase in water fees, pricing newcomers out of the equation.
But, as the TV pitchman says, “But wait, there’s more!”
With this handy, dandy environmentally unsound pipeline, each Washington County resident will take on $800 in debt every year for the next 50 years.
It is also an unnecessary expense that would make many think twice before relocating their families or businesses here. We have seen, even in Southern Utah, how willing the residents are to conserve water.
They do a good job. In fact, I remember when Cedar City instituted penalties for excessive water use and offered guidelines for conservation, residents cut back so severely that the city had to raise water rates to make up for declining revenue because of the decline in usage.
Southern Utah could have easily made huge strides in this area by implementing gray water delivery systems. I heard a complaint once that it would be “too expensive” to install a countywide system that would use recycled water for lawns and green spaces. So can we afford to spend $2.4 billion on a pipeline fraught with huge annual overhead costs that will remain for the lifetime of the project?
Another consideration: What happens when Lake Powell dries up?
Look, whether you believe in climate change, global warming or any of the other environmental maladies that have beset our planet, the irrefutable fact is that Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the United States, has witnessed a dramatic decline, currently ranging from 39-51 percent capacity. So, what happens if Washington County incurs this massive debt to build the pipeline but that water supply suddenly dries up?
The question, of course, remains as to water priorities and who sets them, primarily focusing on how we divvy up the water.
Should it go to California’s agricultural fields that help feed the nation or the golf courses in the Southern California desert that are lush and green, even during the dog-day heat of August?
Should it go to Utah, whose snowpack has become unreliable?
And, how much Colorado River water, which feeds Lake Powell, should remain in Colorado, another important agricultural state? What about the tourists in Las Vegas or ranchers in New Mexico? How much water do they deserve?
The complex negotiations and deals signed over the years have resulted in a vast over-allocation of Colorado River water, and that can be dangerous in many ways. It is, of course, a hotly contested political issue that pits Colorado against Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and California in a struggle for water rights.
In a less-civilized age, these water disputes were settled with six-guns on a dusty Old West street. Now, of course, the fight lands in the courts where attorneys, well-schooled in milking their clients, will keep it alive for as long as the billing hours last.
All that’s getting soaked — and not with water in this case — are the people who end up footing the bill for these expensive courtroom excursions.
Keeping Lake Powell at a respectable water level is also crucial because Glen Canyon Dam, which was built to create Lake Powell, is a critical part of the power grid, with its massive turbines generating power for a large chunk of the Southwest.
Finally, the will of the people in Southern Utah is to oppose, in general, continued growth.
Residents want all the perks — if you want to call them that — of the big-box stores and lifeless chain restaurants that come with a big city but do not want the other effects.
Most in the region would rather people leave than welcome newcomers who challenge the status quo or established mores of the area, even though growth and diversity are powerful in keeping a city viable, lively and healthy.
Even if Southern Utah was poised and welcoming of such growth, the environmental impact of carving through some beautiful wilderness would be enough of a reason to oppose this proposition.
Jobs were promised in relation to the pipeline, but those same kind of jobs could be had easily by instituting a countywide gray water system.
The people should reject this noxious idea. It would save money, save water and leave some pristine lands untouched.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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