Letter to the Editor: The proposed Lake Powell Pipeline has a new cheerleader

Lake Powell as seen from space. Lake Powell, Utah, undated | Photo courtesy of NASA, St. George News

OPINION — The Lake Powell Pipeline Project, a plan to build a 140-mile pipeline from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir to provide water to our rapidly growing and grass-loving area, continues to move along although at a snail’s pace for some. A new man, John Fredell, now heads the project at the state level and brings some interesting history to his new job.

I met Mr. Fredell at a November St. George Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. He and Washington County Water Conservancy District Manager Ron Thompson were there to promote the benefits of the project as they see them. John is a cheery man who smiled constantly during his presentation while praising the benefits that would (I like to say “could”) result from our proposed LPP.

Prior to heading Utah’s LPP project, John managed the Southern Delivery System project in Colorado for El Paso County, the Colorado Springs area. It is the largest water system built in the 21st century in the Western U.S. John was the man who overcame obstacles to make SDS happen. He’s apparently been brought to Utah, given his success in Colorado, to see if he can achieve a similar success here.

But, there are some key differences between the Colorado project – a 50-mile pipeline – and Utah’s project – a 140-mile pipeline. More than distance distinguishes the two. The population served and conservation efforts prior to undertaking the projects are key differences.

Colorado Springs, the largest city in Colorado’s El Paso County, grew to over 400,000 before taking on the SDS debt. Our county’s 160,000 population would be taking on a debt that could be several billions while getting little say in the arrangement. Our leaders say citizens have had a say by voting them into office and, doggone it, they want it.

Most citizens will agree that our votes cover a myriad of issues. I’ve had many fiscally conservative Republicans tell me they don’t support the LPP. Although the state will be carrying the debt for us while we ease into needing the water, what other state needs will go unmet? The state admits in their October letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that they must be mindful of debt levels because of transportation projects and the prison relocation costs, with no mention of education, health care and other costs important to the citizens of this state.

Simple math, though not precise, tells us that the $875 million 50-mile SDS will cost approximately $17 million per mile. Our proposed 140-mile LPP is predicted to cost as much as $1.8 billion ($13 million per mile) but at $17million per mile would be $2.4 billion (without financing costs!). How can a 140-mile pipeline that must lift water 2,000 feet over the Cockscomb cost less per mile than a 50-mile pipeline? Energy production along the way may help but the real cost offset project – the pumped storage project – has been moved to a back burner and its entire cost ($660 million) loaded on Washington County with no state help; so it may never be built. It is simply a red herring – used to help with the cost-benefit analysis to justify the LPP while posing little chance of being built or successfully producing the energy benefits even if it is built. For many of us this makes the predicted cost look very suspect. It also does not include any new water treatment facility that would be needed.

As noted, over 400,000 residents in Colorado’s El Paso County are served by the SDS which began operation in 2016. The SDS is not state funded. It’s funded by the entities that receive the water. The water rate increases that were predicted in 2009 for the following seven years to pay for the SDS have not been quite as high as predicted, but how will that work in Washington County where we are facing a more expensive project and smaller population? Already the 2008 prediction that impact fees for new development would pay for the project (growth will pay) has been changed with more of the cost being placed on property taxes and water surcharges.

Perhaps most important, El Paso County’s conservation achievements preceded the SDS. According to the Bureau of Reclamation’s “Moving Forward 2015” report, Colorado Springs Utility’s conservation goal of 19 percent by 2050 is 149 gallons per capita per day. They were using 172 gpcd in 1997 compared to Washington County’s 400 gpcd. Pipeline proponents say it’s difficult to compare usage in different areas, but our own water district did that in the late 90s with their Boyle Study that served to help justify the LPP when talks began. They compared our area to several other desert communities not to show what stellar conservationists we were but to show that our usage demanded more water. Certainly with Washington County’s 2060 goal of 285 gpcd something is off. Climate and other differences cannot make up for a 145 gpcd per day difference even if the SDS area gets 12” of water annually compared to our 8”. Colorado Springs’ 450,000 population made great strides in water conservation before taking on a major project. Even with those conservation strides and the population growth, water rate increases are being experienced in their area.

Ceres, a nonprofit that advocates for business leadership on water and energy issues, has challenged the idea that water demand will continuously rise as an area’s population grows. “Demand” is the main focus of the need for the Lake Powell Pipeline, i.e, we are growing and thus must have more water. But Ceres’ research reveals that municipal water use in Western states has been falling over the past two decades even as fast-paced growth is the norm. Population growth does not necessarily equate to water delivery demand. For water managers such as ours and the new LPPP leader Mr. Fredell to assume that it does while leading us down an expensive and unnecessary path does this state and our county’s citizens no favor. Cheerleading is not needed; leadership is.

Written by LISA RUTHERFORD, Ivins.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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11 Comments

  • holger December 30, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Great analysis and insight. Thank you.

  • desertgirl December 30, 2017 at 10:13 am

    LPP is totally unnecessary at this time, with more immediate expenses needed to be met by counties and states. Water conservation could begin by using zero landscaping. I’m moving into a community and the CCRs require 20% of front yard to be sod. Ridiculous. How many times do many of us have to knock-knock to remind people this is the desert; if you want green grass and giant green trees move to another climate rather than working against the natural environment. Along the way, engineers will find better and less expensive methods to bring water to given communities. Let the free market work it’s wonders and offer choices to assist government bodies.

  • Real Life December 30, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Most readers will see right through this fluff piece.

    • .... December 30, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      They see through your fluff !

      • Real Life January 1, 2018 at 7:55 am

        Take your pills and go back to bed.

  • comments December 30, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    its gonna be built and we gonna be milked$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

    • mesaman December 30, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      It is very sad but you are probably correct. If the State of Utah (and it isn’t clear whether the state or the WCWD) paid for this water puppet to be here then it won’t really make any difference to the public citizen whether we support it or not. The power behind the project is not with the citizen, that’s for absolute certain.

  • hiker75 December 30, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Without any consideration of water conservation no wonder people think a pipeline is needed. A huge splash park is opening in the city soon. People we live in a desert. Act like it! Stop using water like we have an endless supply.

  • Not_So_Much December 30, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Of course it will be built. Most voters don’t pay attention and vote in pro development politicians who allow some to profit while the rest of us will pay for foolish projects like this. It’s time to hold city, county,state and yes federal officials feet to the fire or vote for change. Go to public meetings, ask questions and demand specific answers. Maybe, just maybe, this dinosaur can be stopped in it’s tracks before it gets moving. Thanks for a thoughtful letter to the editor.

  • comments December 31, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    THEY ARE ALL PRO-DEVELOPMENT. Even if they campaign on a dif platform once they get in office they get bought at bargain basement prices. With billions $$$$$$$ on the table the little people don’t get a say.

  • Waid December 31, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    The LPP is all about enabling wealthy developers to continue the rampant, unplanned, out-of-control overcrowding of Washington County at taxpayer expense while developers, landowners, and their lap-dog politicians reap untold wealth and ruin the small-cities that attracted most of us to this area. Of course, Washington County’s “government by chamber of commerce” wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to the growth-at-any-cost crowd we can say hello to traffic jams, crime, gangs, homelessness, as well as overcrowded parks and public facilities. Severe air pollution is coming in the very near future — heavy construction dust filling the St. George basin every day is merely the harbinger of things to come as traffic rapidly ramps up.

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