The Lake Powell Pipeline is a state project that will allow Utah to further develop its allocation of Colorado River water to benefit Utah’s growing population and economy. Washington County is one of the state’s fastest growing counties and home to the fourth fastest growing city in America, St. George. The Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget predict the area will more than quadruple its population in the next 50 years, creating a demand for additional water sources.
The Lake Powell Pipeline will:
- Provide a needed resource to serve Utah’s future populations
- Allow Utah to use a portion of its legally-allocated share of the Colorado River
- Deliver a more reliable, stable water supply to Washington and Kane counties
- Diversify water resources in Washington and Kane counties
- Be one of the most cost effective options to procure additional water resources
Water from the Colorado River at Lake Powell will be delivered to Sand Hollow Reservoir through a proposed 139-mile, 69-inch buried pipeline. The project also includes pumping facilities and hydroelectric generation facilities that will generate power to offset pumping costs. The pipeline will deliver 86,249 acre feet of water at full capacity: 82,249 acre feet to Washington County and 4,000 acre feet to Kane County. The water diverted into the pipeline will be a small portion (approximately six percent) of Utah’s Upper Colorado River Compact allocation and will consist of water rights held or acquired by the two water districts and Board of Water Resources.
Similar to other infrastructure projects, the Lake Powell Pipeline is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental, social and economic effects of the project prior to permitting. To date, nearly two dozen draft environmental study reports have been submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in preparation for the NEPA process. Copies of those reports are available here.
The NEPA process determines the pipeline’s alignment (multiple options have been submitted for consideration) as well as its design features. Current designs range from 10 to 30 percent complete, depending on the alignment. Once a NEPA decision is reached, the project team will work with consultants to determine the:
- Final design
- Cost estimate
- Financing terms
- Repayment plan
The costs and financing terms of this project will be available to the public before a commitment is made to begin construction and any debt obligation is incurred.
The anticipated project timeline is noted below. (Click on the image for a larger view)
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Would additional conservation eliminate the need for the Lake Powell Pipeline?
Although conservation is essential, it alone is not sufficient to provide for the growing population and economy in Southern Utah. Industry professionals anticipate Washington and Kane counties will have an additional water demand of 143,000 acre feet per year by 2060 based on current growth projections. Washington County’s current annual renewable potable water supply is approximately 60,000 acre feet. Even the most stringent, expensive conservation practices will not produce the necessary yield to meet anticipated demand. Water managers throughout Utah believe conservation and new development is the most beneficial and cost-effective solution to preparing water resources for current and future generations.
2. Is Utah one of the nation’s highest water users?
Cities frequently report water use in gallons per capita per day (gpcd). These numbers are helpful for planning purposes and to track conservation accomplishments but are not valid for use in comparative analysis since every municipality calculates gpcd differently and no two communities are the same. Utah has one of the most comprehensive gpcd measurement methods, created by calculating all water that is diverted or withdrawn from a water source and is conveyed for human purposes, divided by the total permanent population. That number is then divided by 365 – the number of days in a year. Utah’s calculations don’t exclude secondary water, omit certain uses and/or apply a credit for return flows to the river – all common practices in neighboring cities. Until a national standard for calculating water use is implemented that factors in environmental influences (precipitation, average temperatures, population density, number of growing days, etc.), there isn’t an accurate comparative tool to determine how Utah’s water use compares with others.
3. How will the project impact our economy?
As the current largest water infrastructure project in the state, the Lake Powell Pipeline will provide much-needed jobs and business opportunities for Utah companies while contributing millions of dollars to the local economy.
One-time construction impacts of the Lake Powell Pipeline are estimated to produce the following in southern Utah: The economic potential of 86,000 acre feet of water in southern Utah would support the following:
In addition, incremental sales tax revenue and personal income tax payments supported by the Lake Powell Pipeline are estimated to generate more than $19.2 billion between 2026 and 2060, much of which would inure to the state. This revenue could be used to fund other essential community services such as education, healthcare and transportation.
4. Is the Colorado River a reliable water source for Southern Utah?
According to Kent Jones, P.E., State Engineer, Utah Division of Water Rights, “the Lake Powell Pipeline water rights and point of diversion being from Lake Powell make it one of the most firm water supplies in Utah’s allocation of the Upper Colorado River Basin.” Washington County’s water is from the Virgin River, a tributary of the Colorado River vulnerable to drought and climate change. Virtually all water available from this local source has been developed.
5. Isn’t the Colorado River already over allocated?
Shortages in the Colorado River are exclusive to the lower basin states. The following outlines the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which governs the water rights of the river. The upper basin states have developed 4.2 million acre feet of their Colorado River allocations, leaving 1.8 million acre feet available for future development.
The Lake Powell Pipeline will divert a small portion (6 percent) of Utah’s Upper Colorado River Compact allocation with water rights held or acquired by the Utah Division of Water Resources, Washington County Water Conservancy District and Kane County Water Conservancy District.
6. How will the pipeline effect Lake Powell?
0.5% of the 15 million acre feet annual inflow
7. How much will the project cost?
Multiple project alignments with varying design features and price points have been proposed in the environmental documents, in accordance to the NEPA guidelines. The current (2016) pre-record of decision preliminary cost estimate for the preferred alignment is $1.4 billion according to MWH, the firm preparing the study reports and other documents to be filed with FERC for the state of Utah.
Once an alignment has been determined through the federal review and approval process and a final design has been approved by the state and participating districts, the state will have the information need to obtain a more detailed and accurate cost analysis.
8. How will we pay for it?
The Lake Powell Pipeline will be financed through the State of Utah, as outlined in the 2006 Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act, under which:
- the districts will repay the state gradually as growth occurs
- the districts’ obligation to the state is not a traditional bond financing with a level repayment; the districts will repay the state as water is used
- 70-percent of the project would need to be paid within 50-59 years after completion; the remaining 30-percent paid 90 years after completion
Washington and Kane County Water Conservancy Districts have three legislative-approved sources of capital and operating funds that will be used to repay the state: water rates, property taxes and impact fees. Water districts provide a critical public service that, unlike education and transportation, repays capital expenditures.
9. Was there a vote on this project?
The Lake Powell Pipeline Development Act passed with overwhelming support from the Utah State Legislature in 2006. The pipeline has been a topic in recent political elections. Those who support the project continue to receive the majority public vote.