Utah’s Washington County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, made possible by the Virgin River which supplies the region and its multiplying suburbs with water. But drought and population growth have long plagued the river, and the mayor of Ivins, a small, bedroom community of nearby St. George, did not mince words when addressing constituents this month.
“There’s good cause to be concerned about water,” said Mayor Chris Hart during an annual neighborhood meeting in January. “We are running out.”
Hart said the city has run out of water previously, dating back to the 1960s — “but there was always a solution, because we hadn’t fully developed the sources of water. That’s coming to an end.”
“We’ve just about used up all of the Virgin River drainage and our only hope is that we can convince enough of us to conserve better,” he continued…
Hart, who served on the Washington County Water Conservancy Board, said much of the region’s growth is predicated on construction of the Lake Powell Pipeline, a $3 billion project that would funnel 80,000 acre-feet of Utah’s Colorado River allotment from the Glen Canyon Dam to the St. George area.
For the past decade, Kane County leaders have argued that their southern Utah community will need water piped from the Colorado River to meet future needs, but the local water district abruptly announced Thursday it was pulling out of the costly Lake Powell pipeline project, leaving Washington County as the only remaining recipient of the water.
The controversial project would divert 86,000 acre-feet of water a year from the chronically depleted Lake Powell into a 143-mile pipeline terminating 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.
But now the Kane County Water Conservancy District has decided it didn’t have a “foreseeable need” for the water after reviewing the county’s projected population growth and available water resources, according to a release posted Thursday…
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, and other critics have long pointed to Kane County’s ample groundwater supplies as evidence that there was not much need for the project, which would be financed by Utah taxpayers and tap an already over-allocated Colorado River. More than $25 million has been spent on environmental reviews, with a new one underway by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which assumed federal oversight of the project after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission withdrew…
The project has shrunk substantially from its original version, first unveiled in 2006 legislation. Last year, the Utah Division of Water Resources removed the hydroelectric generation components, which would have enlarged the project’s costs and environmental footprint. Iron County, another original participant, exited years ago, citing the high cost of delivering the water all the way to Cedar City.
But state officials, pointing to the mushrooming growth in and around St. George, maintained there is still a need for the pipeline.
At the request of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation will no longer consider the county’s future water supply needs in its National Environmental Policy Act review for the Lake Powell Pipeline.
According to a press release from the Washington County Water Conservancy District, the decision came after a review of both Kane County’s projected population growth and available water supply showed there was no “foreseeable need” for additional water to be brought to the county by the Lake Powell Pipeline…
Kane County’s dropping from the project removes a planned 10-mile pipeline that would have come off the Lake Powell Pipeline and delivered 4,000 acre feet of water to the county. The water rights for the 4,000 acre feet of water remain with the Utah Board of Water Resources, according to the release.
Kane County now joins Iron County in having pulled out of the pipeline project. Iron County ended its participation in the project in 2012. The potential cost of Iron County’s part of the project, as well as a move to develop existing water resources for a fraction of that cost, were cited as reasons the project was dropped on their end…
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said he was happy to see Kane County leave the project…
The group has also argued that Washington County has enough water and should focus on conservation and that the already overtaxed Colorado River isn’t a reliable long-term water resource. However, while Kane County may have removed itself as a partner in the Lake Powell Pipeline, the project is still considered crucial for Washington County by state and local officials due to increasing population projections…
Kane County’s decision to leave the pipeline project does not impact the project’s timeline and NEPA review process. The Bureau of Reclamation’s work on an environmental impact statement for the pipeline is ongoing, with a draft anticipated for public review and comment this summer.
Water managers in southwestern Utah are proposing a property tax hike.
The Washington County Water Conservancy District announced the past week that the increase would help pay for things like fire protection, conservation programs and flood control, along with the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.
The increase would translate to an estimated $7.57 per year for residences valued at $329,000. For a business of that same value, the increase would be about $13.77 a year.
The increase is mostly an effort to keep up with inflation, according to Ron Thompson, WCWCD manager, although he said it is also part of a long-term strategy by the WCWCD to prepare for future projects and growth…
Lake Powell Pipeline
The district has been steadily increasing its tax rates along with water rates and impact fees as part of a long-range plan to ensure steady water supplies for the area, and a large chunk of future expenses are expected to go toward the pipeline.
At some 140 miles and at a price tag that could be more than $1 billion, the project would need state funding to move forward, but the district has also started increasing its revenues to help cover local costs.
The district has already started in on a plan to increase water rates by 10-cents per 1,000 gallons, every year. From where they started at just more than $1 per 1,000 gallons in 2016, the plan is to continue increasing them each year until they roughly triple, reaching $3 per 1,000 gallons.
A report filed in 2017 by the state as part of its application for a federal permit for the project suggested the water district could raise nearly $1.6 billion in revenue by 2065 by boosting the rates that way.
The district has also already been raising impact fees on new construction, with plans to continue increasing the fee by $1,000 per year through at least 2026.