Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Lake Powell Pipeline: Delivering A Less Than Desirable Future

(Published by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Spectrum May 2007)

I find telemarketing annoying not only because it’s an uninvited interruption, but because someone’s trying to sell me something I don’t really need. About the only thing that could be more annoying is if telemarketing calls were collect and I had to accept the charges.

Well, that’s pretty much analogous to what the Washington County Water Conservancy District is up to these days. They won’t be dialing your number, but they have hired Vanguard Media Group to sell you something you don’t really need—the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline—and Vanguard’s fees will be covered by lifting tax revenue from your wallet.

If you think about it, just the fact that the District has determined that an expensive spin campaign is necessary speaks volumes about how unnecessary the Lake Powell Pipeline must be.

A little math is even more convincing. State water officials calculate that Washington County has enough water to provide for a population of at least 270,000 without the pipeline. That’s more than double the current population of 130,000. And despite the local District’s use of scare tactics in asserting it’s needed much sooner, State planners say the pipeline isn’t needed until around 2023.

But even the State’s pro-pipeline spin should be seriously questioned. The projections are based on 2005 per-capita water use. Consumption rates are already trending down and will certainly be significantly reduced by new technologies and rate incentives in coming years. If you think I’m overly optimistic, consider the fact that current per-capita consumption rates in most communities in the southwestern United States are significantly lower than Washington County’s. Several communities—Albuquerque and Tucson for example—have per-capita use rates half ours, serving the same number of people using half the water. If already proven levels of efficiency are achieved, Washington County can support 500,000 residents without the pipeline—a population we won’t reach until around 2040.

I don’t point out this per-capita use discrepancy to disparage anyone. The District has done well in providing Washington County with a more than adequate supply of water and therefore efficiency hasn’t been a high priority. But if 30 years rolls by and they haven’t figured out how to apply tomorrow’s technologies to match what other comparable communities are already doing with today’s technologies, somebody’s going to have some real explaining to do. And I don’t think it will be very satisfying to hear that it was a lot more fun building billion dollar engineering monuments in the desert than applying relatively cheap and unglamorous technologies to make our water system at least as efficient as what others achieved 30 years previously.

If you’ve already heard the marketing spin that the pipeline would “only” cost around $500 million, you might think I’m exaggerating to describe it as a billion dollar project. I’m not. Pro-pipeline spin-doctors conveniently neglect to disclose that cash required for construction would be raised through interest bearing State bonds. The State estimates more than $500 million in interest would be paid out, pushing the real cost past the $1 billion threshold. To repay this loan from the State, everyone in Washington County would pay more for water. And new home prices would soar ever higher as impact fees are significantly increased over time. The resulting increase in new home prices would be a double-whammy—many would not be able to afford homes and property taxes for everyone would be lifted up by inflated property values.

So what kind of future would a Lake Powell Pipeline deliver? To help you visualize it, the current population of Utah County is less than 500,000. Imagine Washington County with more congestion and sprawl than exists today in the Draper-Orem-Provo-Springville-Spanish Fork corridor. That’s without the pipeline. With the pipeline we could pack in another 285,000 residents. That total population of 785,000 would put us at about 80% of the congestion, sprawl and smog that exists today in Salt Lake County.

That’s a future that’s both unnecessary and undesirable. It’s bad enough we already have enough water available to become Utah County. Let’s not spend a billion dollars to build a pipeline that transforms Washington County into Salt Lake County and in the process destroys everything we love about southern Utah.

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