The $3.2 billion Lake Powell Pipeline is completely unnecessary because Pipeline spending proponents have inflated future water needs, hidden water sources and ignored an abundance of less expensive alternatives for Utah’s future.

Top 10 Reasons Why the Lake Powell Pipeline Isn’t Needed

 

1. Recipients of Lake Powell Pipeline water are among America's highest water users

The lobbyists selling the Lake Powell Pipeline have encouraged the would-be recipients of Pipeline water in Washington and Kane Counties to be some of America’s highest water users.

The Utah Division of Water Resources found Washington County residents use 302 gallons of water per person per day (gpcd), according to the official Pipeline application submitted to the federal government. 1 This water use is more than twice the national average of 138 gpcd and significantly higher than most of the Southwestern U.S. 2

alt text Recipients of Lake Powell Pipeline water in Washington and Kane Counties are some of the most wasteful water users in the entire U.S.

In Kane County, where a portion of Lake Powell Pipeline water will be delivered, the same permitting documents showed water use was an astronomical 420 gpcd. 3 After receiving criticism of this embarrassingly high water use, the agency inexplicably changed these numbers to 283 gpcd. 4

Amazingly, the Division of Water Resources continues to claim that Washington and Kane Counties are running out of water and need the Lake Powell Pipeline, in spite of this astronomically high water use.

2. Washington County has America’s cheapest water rates, which explains why they are one of America’s biggest water users

The Washington County Water District’s high property tax collections have created the cheapest water rates in the country, which explains why the region has such high water use.

Some Washington County residents pay only $1.83 or less per 1000 gallons of water. 5 At such a low price, overuse of water has little effect on resident's monthly bills. This means there is little incentive to use less water and explains why Washington County residents use a colossal 302 gpcd.

alt text If Washington County priced water at its true cost, like other western cities, basic market principles dictate that the county would reduce its overall water use.

Cheap water rates sound like a good deal until one realizes the Washington County Water District receives more money collecting property taxes from residents and businesses than from selling water. 6 These property taxes not only hide the true cost of water from the consumer, they greatly increase water use. That’s why Washington County has some of America’s cheapest water rates and some of the highest per person water use in the nation.

Phasing out these property taxes and requiring the District to charge realistic water rates would save billions of gallons of water every year, while reducing the tax burden on residents and businesses.

3. Washington County is hiding a massive surplus of water

The Washington County Water District is hiding a massive surplus of untapped water owned by local water suppliers to create the illusion of a pending water shortage.

During a presentation to the Utah Executive Water Finance Board in June of 2018, the District claimed they have a water supply of 60,000 acre-feet. But the District tells a different story to another audience. In 2017, the Water District told Fitch Ratings they have access to 100,000 acre-feet of water: 7

alt text The Washington County Water District told Utah legislators in 2018 they only have access to 60,000 acre feet of water, but told the rating agency FITCH they have access to 100,000 acre feet.

The Washington County Water District’s own newsletter also demonstrates the agency has a surplus of water. A 2011 Waterlines newsletter confirms their excess water supply at 105,000 acre-feet, contradicting their most recent claims about a lack of supply. It has been estimated that there is another 100,000 acre-feet of water supply in Washington County outside this one agency.

Such obfuscation demonstrates how far spending proponents will go to deceive the public in their quest to spend $3.2 billion of taxpayer money on the disastrous pipeline.

4. Future water demand is inflated by 100%

In Washington County, future water needs have been inflated 100 percent or more.

Although official water use estimates by Pipeline lobbyists place Washington County’s 2010 water use at 325 gpcd, 8 these same lobbyists argue in other circles that their water use is only 140 gpcd—much lower than what they tell the federal government. 9

In August 2017, Pipeline spending advocates testified to the Utah Legislature that water use in the region was actually just 140 gpcd. The table below shows the difference in future water demand for the region between 325 vs. 140 gpcd. 10

alt text If Washington County’s water use is 140 gpcd rather than 325 gpcd then there is no need for water from the Lake Powell Pipeline. Proponents recently claimed they were at 302 gpcd in 2015 and will be using 240 gpcd in the year 2060, but this has not been presented to Utah decisionmakers.

It’s clear Pipeline lobbyists are playing a shell game with water use figures. When they need to convince audiences to spend money on the Pipeline, they use a very high water use number. When they get criticism for this astronomically high water use, suddenly their water use is much lower. If water use is at 140 gpcd, there is no need for the $3.2 billion Lake Powell Pipeline.

5. The Washington County Water District is proposing to increase water rates 300% which will eliminate any need for the Lake Powell Pipeline

The Washington County Water District is pretending market economics don’t exist, because the District's plans to quadruple water rates will ensure water from the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline goes unused.

In 2018, the Washington County Water District testified at the Utah Legislature that the agency plans to increase water rates by at least 300%. 11 This increase will reduce water use by 150% to about 160 gpcd. That’s because of basic market economics, which dictate that increasing the price of water, or any commodity, decreases consumption. 12

alt text This slide from a Washington County Water District presentation at a June 2018 meeting of the Executive Water Finance Board shows how the agency plans to hit their customers with a massive 300% water rate increase in order to pay for the Lake Powell Pipeline. This will greatly reduce water use.

An array of economic studies indicate that raising the price of water decreases water use by an average of 50%. This basic market concept, known as elasticity, means that a 300% increase in water prices in Washington County will translate into a 150% decrease in water use.

This means Washington County’s 2015 water use of 325 gpcd would decline to 160 gpcd after planned water rate increases. At 160 gpcd, there is no need for Lake Powell Pipeline water, as demonstrated in the graph below.

alt text The Washington County Water District’s planned 300% water rate increase will lower water use in the county by 150%, meaning water from the Lake Powell Pipeline is unnecessary.

Incredibly, Pipeline spending proponents effectively claim a 300% water rate increase will reduce water use by just 20%. Why did they make this claim? Because if they didn’t fudge these numbers, they would effectively be acknowledging that there is no need for the Pipeline, and these lobbyists don’t want the public to know the truth.

alt text Although a 300% increase in water rates will lead to a 150% decrease in water use in Washington County, the Washington County Water District is only forecasting a 20% decrease in water use to cover up the fact there is no need for Lake Powell Pipeline water in the future.

6. Lake Powell Pipeline planning documents for Kane County were altered to fabricate the need for the Pipeline

The Lake Powell Pipeline permit application prepared by the Utah Division of Water Resources initially noted there was no need for Pipeline water in Kane County, but these facts were mysteriously altered to claim Pipeline water was suddenly needed.

The Lake Powell Pipeline Water Needs Assessment published in both 2008 and 2011, unequivocally stated there was no need for Lake Powell Pipeline water in Kane County because of an abundance of water:

"Thus based strictly on water need, neither agricultural conversion nor LPP supplies are needed in the Kane County Water District service area within the 2060 planning horizon.”

But the Water Manager for the Kane County Water District, Mike Noel, was displeased and pressured the Division to change the Water Needs Assessment. The 2016 version of the Water Needs Assessment suddenly contended that Kane County needed Pipeline water.

With no justification, the Division decided to deliver 4,000 acre feet of Lake Powell Pipeline water, or enough water to supply a population of 20,000 people for a year, to an area of Kane County where only 270 people live. Delivering water to this sparsely populated area has generated controversy not only because of ample groundwater supplies, but also because it is where Mr. Noel owns $4-8 million in land holdings, near the end of the Pipeline. 13

alt text Lands owned by Mr. Noel are a stone’s throw away from the proposed terminus for the Lake Powell Pipeline in Kane County.

Thousands of Utah taxpayers signed a petition in support of a 38-page complaint filed with the Utah Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney requesting an investigation of Mr. Noel and the Lake Powell Pipeline. Shortly after the complaint was filed, Mr. Noel denied a public records request for his correspondences with the Division and their consultants over the Pipeline and his denial was appealed to top state records officials. These officials then ordered Mr. Noel to make his correspondences with the Division and their consultants publically available, but he has refused, instead going to court to prevent these records from being released to the public.

7. Population growth forecasts have been inflated to exaggerate future water needs for Kane County

In Kane County, updated population projections show the current water supply is sufficient to meet future water needs to 2060 and beyond. 14

Population estimates for Kane County used by the Utah Division of Water Resources are outdated figures that are nearly 10 years old. By using these antiquated figures, the Division has greatly exaggerated future water demands by nearly 56%.

alt text 10-year-old population data was used by the Utah Division of Water Resources, which resulted in a misleading and exaggerated demand forecast to demonstrate a need for Lake Powell Pipeline water in Kane County.

Based on 2017 population projections, as referenced by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, future water demand is significantly lower than predicted by the Division of Water Resources. 15

This provides further proof that Kane County has an abundance of water to serve the growth of its population through the year 2060.

8. Lake Powell Pipeline proponents are ignoring future growth in municipal water supply from agricultural land conversion

As the populations of Washington and Kane Counties grow, urbanization converts irrigated cropland to homes and businesses, which creates a vast surplus of water.

According to the USGS, farms and ranches use over 85% of the water consumed in Kane County, and 52% of the water consumed in Washington County. 16

Although the loss of farmland is nothing to celebrate, the water once used by agriculture will be transferred to municipal uses as the Counties grow. This explains why Washington and Kane Counties’ municipal water supplies are actually growing.

alt text Agricultural land uses substantially more water than municipal land per acre. Converting irrigated agricultural land to municipal land creates a substantial growth in municipal water supply.

A 2015 Legislative Audit of the Utah Division of Water Resources demonstrated that proponents of the Lake Powell Pipeline are ignoring this substantial growth in municipal water supply.

The title of chapter four of the 2015 Audit is “Growth in Future Water Supply Should Be Reported to Policy Makers.” The chapter highlights the fact that the municipal water supply in these communities is actually growing, but this growth is being hidden from decision makers and the public. 17

On Page 47, the Audit explains that by ignoring this future water supply the Utah Division of Water Resources is accelerating “the timeframe for developing costly, large scale water projects,” like the Lake Powell Pipeline. 18

Pipeline lobbyists are purposefully ignoring additional future water supplies in these communities to make it seem like they are running out of water and have a need for the Pipeline.

9. The vast majority of water delivered by the Washington County Water District is for an extremely inefficient use

The Washington County Water District claims the water it delivers is vital to growth, when in fact the vast majority of water it provides supports a wasteful use.

Only 20% of the District’s water deliveries are supplied to homes and businesses for necessary uses, while the other 80% is supplied to about 400 individual users as secondary water. 19

Secondary water is untreated water used to flood or sprinkle on municipal landscapes like grass for golf courses. Secondary water systems are left over from irrigation canals after the farmland is converted to municipal use. The vast majority of secondary water users have no idea how much water they use since most of these systems have no meters measuring their use. For whatever water they do use, they pay just a small annual fee for virtually unlimited use, explaining why many consume far more water than they need. Recent Division of Water Resources’ studies indicate that some secondary water users in Utah over-water their landscapes by more than 100 percent. 20

alt text
According to a 2011 Washington County Water District newsletter roughly 82% of water delivered by the agency is secondary water, which is one of the most wasteful uses of water in the United States. This is enough water for roughly 430,000 people.
alt text
Of the water delivered by the Washington County Water District, only 18% is culinary water used inside homes and businesses and on outdoor landscapes and lawns. The other 80% of water delivered by the district goes to secondary water uses, which is largely unmetered and contributes to water waste.

According to a 2012 newsletter, the District claims they deliver 80,000 acre-feet of secondary water each year. 21 This is nearly the same amount of water the District is seeking through $3.2 billion of taxpayer money for the Lake Powell Pipeline.

This massive quantity of available water supply could be treated to meet municipal needs in Washington County for a fraction of the cost of Pipeline water imported from 140 miles away.

10. The Utah Division of Water Resources has admitted there is no need for the Lake Powell Pipeline

Dennis Strong, former Director of the Utah Division of Water Resources and the man who helped initiate the proposed $3.2 billion Lake Powell Pipeline, says the project could be avoided with basic landscaping changes in Washington County. You can watch his interview for yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oY_KXDS6hbQ

Citations

  1. “LPP Demand and Supply Update” Supplemental Lake Powell Pipeline Information from UBWRe, Nov 16 2018
  2. USGS, https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5163/.
  3. 2011 DWRe Water Needs Assessment, p. ES-7
  4. “LPP Demand and Supply Update” Supplemental Lake Powell Pipeline Information from UBWRe, Nov 16 2018
  5. City of St. George Utility Rates, https://www.sgcity.org/utilities/utilityrates
  6. “Water and Property Taxes”, https://www.wcwcd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/PropertyTax.pdf
  7. Fitch Ratings Press Release for Washington County Water, April 2017
  8. “LPP Demand and Supply Update” Supplemental Lake Powell Pipeline Information from UBWRe, Nov 16 2018
  9. August 22 2017 Water Development Commission meeting, Ron Thompson testimony
  10. August 22 2017 Water Development Commission meeting, Ron Thompson testimony
  11. “The Economic and Fiscal Implications of Water Policy in Washington County, Utah” Presented at the Utah Executive Water Finance Board Meeting, June 2018
  12. Blattenberger, 2015 Washington County Economic Analysis
  13. Utah Rivers Council March 11, 2018 Complaint to Utah Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s Office
  14. 2011 LPP Water Needs Assessment, Page ES-24
  15. Utah Rivers Council March 11, 2018 Complaint to Utah Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s Office
  16. USGS 2015 Water Use Report by County
  17. A Performance Audit of Projections of Utah’s Water Needs (May 2015), p. 47
  18. A Performance Audit of Projections of Utah’s Water Needs (May 2015), p. 8
  19. 2011 Washington County Water District newsletter
  20. “LPP Demand and Supply Update” Supplemental Lake Powell Pipeline Information from UBWRe, Nov 16 2018
  21. 2011 Washington County Water District newsletter
  22. “Municipal And Industrial Water Use In Utah” Utah Division of Water Resources 2010, p. 20
  23. Spring 2012 “Water Lines” newsletter

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