Monday, March 19, 2007
Lake Powell Pipeline: Is It Inevitable Too?
If you have fond memories of the way things used to be in the St. George area, you would enjoy “Delivering the Future,” a marketing video for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. It can be found online at www.lakepowellpipeline.org. You’ll be impressed with the beautiful images of southern Utah at its best: Irrigated ranches, open spaces, red-rock beauty and plenty of solitude.
But if you’ve visited St. George recently you might find the images alarmingly out of sync with today’s reality and certainly not an accurate prediction of the future if the Lake Powell Pipeline is built. Water from the pipeline is only necessary to prolong the rampant urban sprawl that is consuming the ranches, open space, red-rock beauty and solitude featured in the video. Many Utahans think images of the smog, traffic, sprawl and urban ugliness of Las Vegas would have been a more accurate visualization of what the pipeline would deliver to southern Utah.
Many residents of Washington County—perhaps even a majority—are not interested in delivering that future. The State of Utah is going to great lengths to convert or wear-down the naysayers, even fronting the entire $500 million required to build the pipeline. That might sound too good to be true—because it is. Residents of southern Utah would eventually reimburse the state the full amount—plus interest—through hikes in local property taxes, water bills and impact fees.
The pipeline would serve three southern Utah counties: Iron, Kane and Washington. But 70 percent of the water—and the bill—would end up in Washington County. It’s safe to say the pipeline wouldn’t even be a pipe dream without the allure of extending the lucrative population boom in the St. George area.
Many Washington County residents believe there is more than enough boom left without the pipeline. The county has104,000 acre feet of water available—72,000 now and an additional 32,000 scheduled to come on-line before the pipeline is built. For planning purposes, state water officials assume 2.6 residents can be supported by one acre foot of water. Therefore, there is enough water without the pipeline to reach a minimum population of 270,000.
In addition, per capita water consumption in the county decreased 16 percent in the last nine years. It’s reasonable to assume that improvements in technology and smarter utilization will continue, pushing the pre-pipeline population total well beyond 300,000.
There are around 130,000 residents of Washington County today. So, even without the pipeline, residents can look forward to more than double the sprawl, double the bumper-to-bumper traffic and double the number of rooftops, strip malls and fast food joints.
But just imagine what could be accomplished with the water from Lake Powell. Using the same planning assumptions, the annual allotment of 70,000 acre feet of water would enable an additional 200,000 residents. A fully utilized pipeline would therefore provide for a population of more than 500,000. That’s nearly quadruple the current population. At that point Utahans would likely need to describe the St. George area as roof-top country instead of red-rock country to avoid running afoul of truth-in-advertising rules.
Of course there are many who would like to deliver that future to Washington County—primarily because it would make them very wealthy. Developers, builders and real estate agents would share in the billions of dollars flowing from the wallets of so many newcomers. And state and local politicians are probably already planning how they might spend the windfall tax revenue that would flow from the pipeline.
Public servants in Washington County have convinced too many residents that rampant uncontrollable growth is inevitable. It’s not. Growth is a choice made every time a request to rezone and develop property is approved and any time growth-facilitating infrastructure is built. The Lake Powell Pipeline is not inevitable. It’s a choice—a choice so important to the future of Washington County that it should be the subject of a countywide referendum.
If state and local politicians are going to lower the Washington County quality of life to hell in a handbasket, we should first verify that at least half the residents want to go along for the ride.