ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Water Conservancy District has released a copy of a preliminary Lake Powell Pipeline financial survey as ordered by state officials.
The proposed pipeline would stretch nearly 140 miles and carry up to 86,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Powell to Washington and Kane counties, water which proponents say is needed to support future population growth in Southern Utah.
Opponents say the pipeline is not needed and would be prohibitively expensive.
Initial estimates have placed the final cost of the project at approximately $1 billion, but others believe the initial price tag would be closer to $2 billion plus the cost to manage and maintain the pipeline.
The Utah State Records Committee ruled May 13 that the district had to release documents related to a repayment plan for the controversial Lake Powell Pipeline.
The district could have appealed the decision, district spokeswoman Karry Rathje said in a press statement, but chose instead to release documents the district says are not repayment plans. The documents, she said, are actually the result of interactive live-polling focus group exercises.
“The information was generated using only the defined assumptions provided by those participating in the polling.” Rathje said in the statement. “The two resulting documents have different inputs and outcomes based on varied audience response, which is why the district decided to release copies of the results from both meetings.”
The documents and underlying calculations used in both meetings were prepared and presented by Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas-based corporation that is a consultant for the Water District.
The requested documents which the district released are not a repayment plan, Rathje said. The district maintains that a repayment plan cannot be formulated until 2018 or later because the needed information is not yet available.
A definitive repayment plan requires a route and design features that cannot be determined until after completion of a National Environmental Policy Act review along with an approved final design, cost estimates based on that design and financing terms approved by the state and accepted by the districts, Rathje said.
“No official decision will be made to build the Lake Powell Pipeline until after multiple opportunities for public review and feedback on the costs, financing terms and repayment plan options,” the statement said.
At issue is both the final cost to taxpayers and the impact on water rates for Washington County residents if the controversial pipeline is built. A study endorsed by 20 economists from three major Utah universities released in November predicts massive water rate and impact fee hikes would be needed to pay for the pipeline.
The released documents are believed to show a repayment plan for the billion-dollar project; the Utah Rivers Council requested the plan from the Water District in December. The request was denied, and that decision was appealed to the Utah Department of Administrative Services State Records Committee.
The district has stated that preliminary financing scenarios are not secret, and the Utah Rivers Council is “confusing a preliminary, interactive exercise with a repayment plan.”
Tom Butine, president of Conserve Southwest Utah, said in an earlier interview that he had seen the repayment model in a meeting and took extensive notes.
“So I knew the model existed,” Butine said. “They’re using that model to justify affordability, so it ought to be public.”
Representatives from Conserve Southwest Utah and the Utah Rivers Council declined to comment until the documents can be reviewed and analyzed.
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