Study: Lake Powell pipeline to cost $3.2 billion

Analysts say project is too expensive to build

New research shows the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, the largest new diversion of the Colorado River, will cost an estimated $3.2 billion for Utah taxpayers, according to the Utah Rivers Council. The estimates come amid concern over the pipeline’s financial impacts on local ratepayers and taxpayers.

The URC compared the Lake Powell Pipeline engineering features to the Southern Delivery System, a similar pipeline built by Colorado Springs in 2016, to determine a realistic price tag for the pipeline in Utah. The organization’s officials say proponents of the project have not been willing to update cost estimates while also lobbying the Utah Legislature for funding.

“The Lake Powell Pipeline is substantially larger and would require more pumping facilities and infrastructure than the Southern Delivery System,” said a statement from the URC in a press release. The council’s analysis adjusted for inflation and new tariffs on construction materials that will add approximately 6.6% to construction costs. These numbers were crosschecked with cost estimates from another analysis published by the Utah Division of Water Resources, the agency proposing the pipeline.

“Pipeline spending proponents have been hiding the true cost of the pipeline so they can ram the pipeline down taxpayer’s throats,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the URC. “This $3.2 billion price tag is a bombshell that kills any claim this project can be repaid by local residents.”

A 2015 analysis from University of Utah economists found that recipients of pipeline water in Washington and Kane counties in southwestern Utah “would be burdened with major increases to water rates, property taxes and impact fees just to repay the debt for a much lower cost of $1.4 billion,” said URC officials. State law mandates the recipients of the water repay the full cost of the pipeline with interest, “but at a cost of $3.2 billion this would be impossible without draconian rate, tax and fee increases that would impact area growth and drive down water use.”

Said Frankel, “At $3.2 billion, the Lake Powell Pipeline is the largest proposed capital project in Utah which would create a legacy of debt for Washington and Kane County residents. Many inexpensive alternatives exist to the Lake Powell Pipeline including inexpensive water conservation measures, since Washington and Kane County residents have some of the highest per-person water use in America.

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