Washington County is only recipient left
For the last 10 years officials in southern Utah’s Kane County have been supportive of a plan that would pipe water to their area from the Colorado River to meet future needs. But the county’s water district suddenly announced April 16 that it was pulling out of the controversial — and costly — Lake Powell pipeline project.
That leaves Washington County, home to the growing cities of St. George and Hurricane, the only recipient of the water, according to a story in the Salt Lake Tribune.
The hotly debated project would divert 86,000 acre-feet of water a year from Lake Powell, which has faced steady declines in its levels, into a 143-mile pipeline ending in a reservoir near St. George. Along the way, the billion-dollar pipeline was to offload 4,000 acre-feet in Johnson Canyon east of Kanab.
Kane County Water Conservancy District officials announced last week that they didn’t have a “foreseeable need” for the water after reviewing the county’s projected population growth and available water resources.
The district’s general manager Mike Noel said, “We continue to support the Lake Powell pipeline and consider it absolutely essential to the future of southwestern Utah.” The Kanab resident is a retired Kanab state lawmaker who has long favored the project.
Critics of the proposal say that Kane County has plenty of groundwater, and they argue on behalf of Utah taxpayers who would foot the multi-million-dollar project, tapping an over-allocated river. Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said more than $25 million has been spent on environmental reviews already, with a new one underway by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is now in charge on a federal level in the wake of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission exiting that job.
With Kane County withdrawing from the pipeline network, there won’t be a need to build a 10-mile pipe that would have directed the county’s share of the water to a place, ironically, less than a mile from Noel’s extensive ranch properties in Johnson Canyon.
The project has shrunk substantially from its original version, first unveiled in 2006 legislation. The Tribune story noted that last year the Utah Division of Water Resources took away the hydroelectric generation components, which would have enlarged the project’s costs and environmental footprint. Nearby Iron County, home to Cedar City, had been another original participant, but it withdrew years ago because of the high cost of delivering the water all the way to its county seat.
Many state officials argue that booming growth in and around St. George still creates a need for the pipeline, but some critics call it a boondoggle.
Lake Powell could become a “dead pool” as climate change, political wars and unabated growth drain its waters. “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,” he said.
The project’s timeline and process remain unaltered. The Bureau of Reclamation’s review is ongoing with a draft environmental impact statement anticipated for public comment planned for this summer.