Many inexpensive alternatives to the $3.2 billion Lake Powell Pipeline are being ignored that could provide ample water for the future of Washington & Kane Counties at a fraction of the cost.

Alternatives to the Lake Powell Pipeline

#1 – Using Water Efficiently

Washington County residents use a staggering 302 gallons of water per person per day according to the Lake Powell Pipeline permit application.1 Kane County residents use 283 gallons per person. That’s twice as much water as the average American uses and much more water than residents use in other communities like Phoenix, Denver and Los Angeles.


 
The communities receiving Lake Powell Pipeline water are some of America’s most wasteful water users.

The communities receiving Lake Powell Pipeline water are some of America’s most wasteful water users.

 

By implementing real conservation programs like those instituted across the American West, Washington and Kane Counties can easily reduce their water use 50% without impacting the economy.  This would ensure plenty of water for the future without wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, because conservation is the cheapest source of water available.

Unfortunately, the community has seen lots of marketing claims when it comes to water conservation, while systemic problems encouraging water waste go unaddressed.  For instance, water rates that encourage conservation instead of encouraging water waste should be implemented.  Washington and Kane Counties have some of America’s cheapest water rates.

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In addition to rate based incentives there are many other inexpensive alternatives available for Washington and Kane counties like upgrading thirsty landscapes with desert-friendly plants and offering more rebates for high efficiency irrigation meters and indoor appliances.

#2 - Phasing Out Taxes That Encourage Water Waste

The biggest Pipeline spending proponent, the Washington County Water District, receives more money collecting property taxes from residents and businesses than from selling water. This local agency is swimming in tax money, having collected so much tax money that it can fulfill its meager water operations for over 12 straight years without receiving another penny in revenues. According to the District’s 2016 financial statement the agency had 4,200 days cash on hand, nearly 12 times the average for water providers according to Fitch Ratings.2

The St. George water supplier that has spent millions in marketing and lobbying fees for the Lake Powell Pipeline makes more money collecting property taxes than from selling water. Incredibly, Pipeline spending proponents claim this is standard business operation for water suppliers.

The St. George water supplier that has spent millions in marketing and lobbying fees for the Lake Powell Pipeline makes more money collecting property taxes than from selling water. Incredibly, Pipeline spending proponents claim this is standard business operation for water suppliers.

These property taxes lower water rates, thereby increasing 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 would save billions of gallons of water every year while reducing the tax burden on residents and businesses.  It would also eliminate the need for billions of dollars in new taxpayer spending and debt for the unnecessary Lake Powell Pipeline.  This solution is a win-win for water users and taxpayers. 

This sensible, free market water policy is widely practiced across the American West, where most water suppliers do not collect property taxes for water.  Only 31% of urban water districts in the American West  collect property taxes, while some 88% of water districts in Utah collect property taxes. 

#3 – Acknowledging Surplus Municipal Water Supplies

The populations of Washington and Kane Counties are growing, but that doesn’t mean they are running out of water. Pipeline lobbyists are intentionally ignoring large amounts of surplus water.  In addition, large amounts of water currently used for agriculture could be transferred for municipal use in the future and these lobbyists are ignoring this significant water source.

 
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According to the USGS, farms and ranches currently use 52% of the water consumed in Washington County and 85% of the water consumed in Kane County.3 As the Counties’ populations grow, urbanization converts irrigated cropland to homes and businesses. Although the loss of farmland is nothing to celebrate, the water once used by agriculture will be transferred over to the municipal sector, which means Washington and Kane Counties’ municipal water supply is actually growing.

 
Irrigated farmland is being replaced by homes, strip malls, streets and parking lots which use much less water or no water whatsoever.

Irrigated farmland is being replaced by homes, strip malls, streets and parking lots which use much less water or no water whatsoever.

 

A 2015 Legislative Audit confirmed that municipal water supplies are growing and pointed out that the Division of Water Resources is excluding this added water supply in future water supply projections. According to Auditors this omission “accelerates the timeframe for developing costly, large scale water projects,"4 like the Lake Powell Pipeline. Future water supply forecasts for Washington and Kane Counties should include the large amounts of agricultural water conversions that are expected as more urban development occurs.

Installing meters on the users of secondary water would provide huge amounts of water for pennies on the dollar of the Lake Powell Pipeline.

Installing meters on the users of secondary water would provide huge amounts of water for pennies on the dollar of the Lake Powell Pipeline.

#4 Metering Secondary Water to Stop Overuse

A huge amount of the water supplied by the Washington County and Kane County Water Districts is secondary water and much of it is unmetered.  Installing meters on the users of secondary water systems would provide huge amounts of water for Washington and Kane Counties for pennies on the dollar of the Lake Powell Pipeline. Secondary water systems are untreated water in irrigation canals or pipes converted to irrigate municipal grass landscapes after growth has occurred on farmland.   

The vast majority of secondary water users have no idea how much water they use and since they pay just a small annual fee for virtually unlimited use, many consume far more water than they need. Recent Division of Water Resources’ studies indicate that some secondary water users in northern Utah over-water their landscapes by more than 100 percent. 5 Much like an all-you-can-eat buffet, a flat fee leads to water waste.

According to a study by Utah State University researchers, simply installing meters to let secondary water users know how much water they use can lead to significant water savings. Researchers installed meters on hundreds of secondary water connections in the Weber Basin and sent each participant a monthly summary of use and a comparison of their use to the local average. Water use declined by an average of 25 percent 6 on the metered connections without any mandate to curtail use or increase in secondary water rates. The city of Saratoga Sroings, Utah saw secondary water use decline by 58% after installing meters.

We can use a lot less water by simply providing water users with data on how much they use each month. Metering secondary water is a common sense option to ensure southwestern Utah is using water responsibly before spending billions of dollars to import water from 140 miles away.

Citations

  1. “LPP Demand and Supply Update” Supplemental Lake Powell Pipeline Information from UBWRe, Nov 16 2018
  2. Fitch Ratings Press Release for Washington County Water, April 2017
  3. USGS 2015 Water Use Report by County
  4. Legislative Auditor General. A Performance Audit of Projections of Utah’s Water Needs. 05/2015. Page 47.
  5. “Municipal And Industrial Water Use In Utah” Utah Division of Water Resources 2010, p. 20
  6. Richard Coleman, James Behunin, Tyson Cabulagan, and Anndrea Parrish. A Performance Audit of Projections of Utah’s Water Needs. (Report #2015-01). Salt Lake City, UT: State of Utah Office of the Legislative Auditor General, 2015.
 

Wildflower banner image for ‘Alternatives’ page: Rob Bertholf