St. George’s Lake Powell Pipeline threatened by low lake levels

Wahweap Marina and Castle Rock on Dec. 21.

As the Bureau of Reclamation announced modifications to its management of the Colorado River, there has been renewed concern about the Lake Powell Pipeline, a proposed 140-mile water line from Lake Powell to St. George.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is Washington County Water Conservancy District’s answer to the continued urban growth in St. George. According to the St. George Spectrum, the pipeline is expected to transport up to 28 billion gallons of water per year, enough to support around 150,000 households.

According to Utah Rivers Council, the project is estimated at $2.24 billion. It would start near Glen Canyon Dam and end at Sand Hollow Reservoir between Hurricane and St. George.

The state of Utah has so far spent $40 million on feasibility and environmental studies. Current drought conditions are raising questions about whether the pipeline should move forward.  

Last fall, governors from the other six western states that have rights to the Colorado River sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking that federal approval for the project be delayed.

Utah insists that it has rights to the water and is entitled to 23% of the 7.5 million acre-feet apportioned to the upper basin states. Others interpret the law to mean that Utah is entitled to 23% of the available upper basin flow and not a specific amount.  

When the rights to the Colorado River were defined in 1922 as the Colorado River Compact, the amounts appropriated to each state were based on flows measured in a 10-year span prior to the agreement.  It happened that those 10 years were some of the wettest on record. The Colorado River has been over-appropriated since then.

With the continued drought in the Colorado River drainage, the question of how much each state is “entitled to” is being determined. The pipeline proposal is not over yet and hinges on available water and rights to the water.

“We don’t have any kind of veto authority on how communities grow,” said Gene Shawcroft, the Colorado River commissioner for Utah. “An additional water supply for the Washington County area will be necessary if the communities collectively feel that they’re going to continue to grow, and that seems to be the trajectory that they’re on.”

J.B. Hamy, director of the Imperial Irrigation District in California, said project like the Lake Powell Pipeline make no sense.

“Things like continued sprawl, demands for new sources of water being taken from this declining stream, which is the Colorado River, do not make sense when we’re dealing with what could be potentially catastrophic at a point where you physically cannot pull water either out of Lake Powell or Lake Mead,” he said.

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