Heather Dove: Washington County doesn’t need Lake Powell Pipeline water

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) This April 30, 2011, photo shows Lake Powell in southeastern Utah.

In March, the Kane County Water District (KCWD) withdrew from the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) because it could not provide data to the Bureau of Reclamation demonstrating a need for additional water — this despite the fact that for decades, KCWD’s general manager, Mike Noel, has ardently insisted the additional water was essential to Kane County’s survival.

Very disturbing also is the fact that KCWD, the Division of Water Resources and the Washington County Water District (WCWD), all pipeline supporters, have used an appalling amount of public funds to instill fear that Kane County was facing an imminent water shortage.

Many millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted pursuing this unnecessary project. For years, pipeline opponents have been pointing out this fallacy about necessity and this egregious abuse of public funds.

Washington County now remains the last county still pressing for the Lake Powell Pipeline. Their dire projections of exploding population and a bleak water future sound eerily similar to those of KCWD.

The drivers of Washington County’s thirst for more water are the fact that its average water use is the highest in the country, clocking in at 302 gallons per capita per day, and that its water rates are the lowest in the nation.

By contrast, Las Vegas, whose climate is very similar and a mere two-hour drive away, uses only 124 gallons per capita per day, less than half that of Washington County. If St. George and the rest of Washington County lowered their water use to that of Las Vegas, they would have plenty of water to cover the needs of twice as many residents and then some.

Simple conservation policies, like a tiered pricing structure for water rates, are effective ways to reduce water use, incentivize conservation through free-markets and eliminate the need for costly projects like LPP. Other cities, like Denver, Las Vegas and even rainy Seattle discourage water waste by raising the price of water in a tiered structure, almost like a staircase, based on the amount of water a customer uses. High water users, like golf courses and industries, pay more per gallon for the massive quantities of water they use while working families who live in an apartment or house pay less for the small amount of water they use, primarily indoors.

Unfortunately, WCWD charges almost the same amount per gallon for water if you use one gallon, or 30,000 gallons. Where is the incentive to conserve this precious resource that we are scared into believing we are running out of? If we are truly running out, why is WCWD continuing to fall decades behind even the most basic of water conservation policies?

Even if we don’t compare gallons per capita per day figures with other cities across the southwest, it is clear that WCWD has plenty of room to improve water conservation programs, technologies and policies before we even begin to consider further draining the already over-allocated Colorado River.

Utahns need to take a step back and instead reprioritize how we value our most important resource. Water is essential. We need to build resilient and sustainable solutions, not far-fetched, massive engineering feats for the enrichment of a few.

Just like in Kane County, it’s clear there is no need for LPP in Washington County. Through the most basic conservation efforts, and conservation-driven water rate structures, WCWD could provide adequate water at virtually no cost when compared to the LPP.

WCWD and the Division of Water Resources should do the right thing and focus first on implementing true water conservation programs and policies, before they burden Utah taxpayers and their local residents with this unnecessary project.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heather Dove

Heather Dove, Salt Lake City, is president of Great Salt Lake Audubon.