ST. GEORGE — Kane County announced Thursday that it has pulled out of the Lake Powell Pipeline project – making the county the first to drop out since Iron County left eight years ago.
At the request of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation will no longer consider the county’s future water supply needs in its National Environmental Policy Act review for the Lake Powell Pipeline.
According to a press release from the Lake Powell Pipeline project team, the decision came after a review of both Kane County’s projected population growth and available water supply showed there was no “foreseeable need” for additional water to be brought to the county by the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“We continue to support the Lake Powell Pipeline and consider it absolutely essential to the future of southwestern Utah,” Mike Noel, general manager of the Kane County Water Conservancy District and former state legislator, said in the press release.
The Lake Powell Pipeline is a proposed 140-mile, 70-inch diameter pipeline that will run from Lake Powell to the Sand Hollow Reservoir. It is anticipated to carry around 77 million gallons a day to several communities in Washington County.
Kane County’s dropping from the project removes a planned 10-mile pipeline that would have come off the Lake Powell Pipeline and delivered 4,000 acre feet of water to the county. The water rights for the 4,000 acre feet of water remain with the Utah Board of Water Resources, according to the release.
Kane County now joins Iron County in having pulled out of the pipeline project. Iron County ended its participation in the project in 2012. The potential cost of Iron County’s part of the project, as well as a move to develop existing water resources for a fraction of that cost, were cited as reasons the project was dropped on their end.
The pipeline comes with an estimated $1 billion-plus price tag. Opponents say the price is at least three times that, and groups like the Utah Rivers Council aren’t convinced of the touted need for the pipeline. They say the cost of the pipeline project could cripple the local economy with high impacts fees, property taxes and water rates.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said he was happy to see Kane County leave the project.
“Kane County residents dodged the bullet on this costly water project” Frankel said in a separate release. “Too bad Washington County residents are still stuck paying a 500% increase in water rates and a doubling of property taxes for water they don’t need and $3 billion in debt they can’t repay.”
The Utah Rivers Council has previously accused Noel of potentially profiting off the project by having it supply water to private land holdings located along the route of the now defunct 10-mile pipeline.
The group has also argued that Washington County has enough water and should focus on conservation and that the already overtaxed Colorado River isn’t a reliable long-term water resource. However, while Kane County may have removed itself as a partner in the Lake Powell Pipeline, the project is still considered crucial for Washington County by state and local officials due to increasing population projections.
“Washington County is the fastest growing and one of the driest regions in Utah,” said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “The county is projected to triple in the next 40 years and is currently dependent on a single river basin that is almost fully developed. A second, reliable water source is vital for Washington County’s growing population and economy.”
Kane County’s decision to leave the pipeline project does not impact the project’s timeline and NEPA review process. The Bureau of Reclamation’s work on an environmental impact statement for the pipeline is ongoing, with a draft anticipated for public review and comment this summer.
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