Andrew Kramer: Pipeline project based on inaccurate studies

(Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune) In this Nov. 28, 2018, photo, the Colorado River cuts through sediment deposited on the bed of Lake Powell near Hite Marina in Hite, Utah.

If constructed, the proposed 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline would be a multi-billion dollar project, one of the most expensive in state history.

Although the pipeline would only serve Washington County, its proponents want the entire state to subsidize the LPP. As taxpayers who’d be required to pay for this mammoth project, we deserve accurate information and well-reasoned analysis that demonstrates the need and economic viability of the pipeline. Instead, studies by the Division of Water Resources (DWR) and the Washington County Water Conservancy District (WCWCD) are biased, incomplete and don’t fairly consider feasible, much less costly alternatives.

By contrast, studies by reliable independent organizations prove the pipeline is unnecessary, risky and cost prohibitive. To counter these fact-based findings, pipeline proponents rely on misleading arguments, skewed data and fear in an attempt to “sell” the LPP to taxpayers and water users who are unaware of the facts and place undue trust in government authorities.

Since its inception in 2006, pipeline sponsors have repeatedly pushed misleading claims.

Claim: Water from Lake Powell will improve the reliability of Washington County’s water supply.

False: Drought and global warming are causing major decreases in Colorado River flow resulting in considerable uncertainty about water availability.

Per the Colorado River Compact, the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada), Mexico and others have first priority to their shares of water. Shortages are absorbed by the Upper Basin states, including Utah. While recent agreement among stakeholders allows cooperative sharing of shortages, undoubtedly the needs of the Lower Basin states with their enormous economies and political power will prevail should water shortages become more extreme.

Consequently, Utah’s share of water could be reduced significantly or eliminated completely. With no guarantee of water availability, building the pipeline would be a multi-billion dollar investment in uncertainty.

Claim: Washington County can afford to pay for the project.

False: The current construction cost estimate is $1.8 billion to $2 billion. Inflation, bond interest and additional infrastructure costs could double the costs. A comprehensive study by University of Utah and Brigham Young University economists examined costs, financing and bond repayment scenarios for earlier construction cost estimates of $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion. Despite these lower costs, none of the scenarios provide a feasible plan for financing the LPP.

The repayment plan favored by DWR and WCWCD requires the state to subsidize the pipeline and defer paying interest, leaving the state holding billions of dollars of debt for an undetermined time. This would impact the state’s credit rating, divert funds from vital programs like education and health care and impose an irresponsible burden on all Utah taxpayers and future generations. Additionally, water users’ rates would increase more than 350%.

Claim: Washington County pursues effective water conservation but still needs the LPP.

False: Washington County has some of the highest water use in the nation. Although the WCWCD claims it’s pursuing aggressive conservation, its efforts are woefully inadequate -- a ploy to exaggerate the need for the pipeline.

Washington County currently uses 303 gallons per capita per day. The WCWCD’s conservation goal of 240 GPCD by 2045 and beyond is irresponsible and will remain well above nearly every county in the West. 240 GPCD compares with current use of 165 GPCD for Pima County, Ariz., and 147 GPCD for Bernalillo County, N.M.

DWR and WCWCD documents show available sources can “conservatively” provide 100,000 acre-feet of water annually without the pipeline. A study by Water Resource Advocates proves by implementing reasonably achievable conservation, Washington County can reduce water use to 175 to 180 GPCD. This would allow 100,000 acre feet of water to serve 509,000, the county’s projected 2065 population, without the pipeline. Instead of considerable up-front costs required by the pipeline, water supplies could be developed incrementally as needed at a fraction of the cost.

Given the high cost of the LPP, no feasible means of financing the debt, no guarantee of water supply and alternative measures that will provide sufficient water at less expense, building the pipeline is unwise and unnecessary.

The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting public comments on its recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement which is flawed and biased in favor of the LPP. For commenting guidelines, visit conserveswu.org.

Andrew Kramer

Andrew Kramer, Ivins, is a retired architect who managed large projects with firms in Boston and Denver.