ST. GEORGE — State water officials announced Tuesday that federal oversight of the Lake Powell Pipeline review process has been handed over to the Bureau of Reclamation.
In a statement issued from the Utah Division of Water Resources Tuesday morning, the agency said the Department of the Interior notified the Utah Board of Water Resources that the National Environmental Policy Act compliance for the pipeline project would be handled by the bureau.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, was originally the lead agency involved in the permitting process for the Lake Powell Pipeline due to hydroelectric elements of the project. However, last month, pipeline planners dropped two planned reservoirs that would have been used to generate hydropower at peak demand times.
With the removal of the reservoirs, the water board withdrew its application to FERC for the pipeline and soon after requested the Department of the Interior make the Bureau of Reclamation the lead agency, according to Tuesday’s statement.
Removing the reservoirs also knocks an estimated $100 million off the pipeline project’s already hefty price tag. Current, preliminary estimates place the cost of the pipeline at between $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion.
“The division looks forward to working with reclamation on updating the timeline and cost estimate for the project and completing the Environmental Impact Statement,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said in the statement.
While a new agency will be taking hold of the reins on the federal side, it does not mean the project will have to start over, said Karry Rathje, public information manager for the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
“This is largely an administrative move,” Rathje told St. George News. “We’re not starting over. The project is going to move forward.”
It is anticipated that the timeline for the Lake Powell Pipeline project will not significantly change, though state and local water managers will be meeting with the Bureau of Reclamation to discuss the project completion date and related matters, Rathje said.
The 140-mile, 70-inch diameter Lake Powell Pipeline will run from Lake Powell to the Sand Hollow Reservoir with a projected route that will snake across the Utah and Arizona border over public and private land. The pipeline will carry around 77 million gallons a day to 13 communities in Kane and Washington counties.
Local water and elected officials have repeatedly stated the needs for a pipeline due to continuing growth, as well as the economic benefit it is expected to generate in the long run.
Opponents aren’t convinced of the touted need for the pipeline. They argue that Washington County has enough water and should focus on conservation; the Colorado River isn’t a reliable water resource long-term and is already overtaxed; and the cost of the pipeline project is astronomical, which could cripple the local economy with high impacts fees, property taxes and water rates.
According to a recent state audit, Washington County will be able to cover the cost of the pipeline. However, this is largely contingent on the increasing growth the county has experienced in previous years continuing.
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