Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie “Brazil” depicts an oppressive society ruled by bureaucrats and red tape. It is so dreary that it doesn’t even offer its residents the pleasure of hating a single Big Brother figure, because no one really seems to be in charge.
One scene in particular illustrated how everything just rolls along with seemingly little human agency. That’s when poor Archibald Tuttle (Robert De Niro), a man labeled a terrorist because he fixes people’s air conditioning systems without authorization, is literally consumed by a storm of paperwork.
In the real world, there was news Tuesday that Utah’s proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, a project estimated to cost upwards of $1 billion, may find itself consumed by federal red tape. But, unlike the tragedy that befell the brave Mr. Tuttle, the sight of this colossal boondoggle disappearing into a blizzard of forms, reports, comment fields and permit applications actually stands to be good news, for Utah and all of the American West.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, aka FERC, Tuesday announced that it had granted the state a permit for one aspect of the plan to pipe water from the rapidly shrinking Lake Powell 140 miles west to the rapidly growing St. George area.
But folks at the Utah Division of Water Resources were somewhat nonplussed to learn that all FERC was permitting was the six hydroelectric generating stations envisioned to be peppered along the pipeline’s route — because that’s the kind of thing FERC regulates.
All the other stuff — environmental impact concerns for the pipeline and its various water storage facilities — may be sent along to other federal agencies, probably including but not necessarily limited to the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Those agencies, and all the public and bureaucratic processes their charters require, may leave the state looking at a cost of much more than the $30 million it — meaning state taxpayers — has already laid down on the project. All before a single spade of dirt has been turned.
Whatever delay this turn of events will cause is actually a good thing. Nobody really knows just how much this monstrosity will cost. Whether that cost can reasonably be covered by (possibly staggering) increases in water bills paid by end users or have to be underwritten by the rest of the state. Whether climate change and/or proposed changes in the way the Colorado River is managed will leave enough — or any — water in Lake Powell to be piped.
Ideally, the people who are in charge of managing water in Utah generally and in Washington County in particular would take bureaucratic curve ball as an opportunity to abandon the whole project once and for all and focus all their energies on some extreme conservation measures that are going to be necessary, pipeline or no pipeline.
They can, as Utah politicians are wont to do, blame the feds. We would understand.