Six states with claim to water in the Colorado River have fired a warning shot at Utah over the controversial Lake Powell Pipeline.
Don’t allow Utah to bum-rush approval for the 150-mile pipeline, the six states warned in a letter to Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, or there could be far-reaching consequences.
The letter, signed by top water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming, says there are “substantive legal and operational issues” around the pipeline that remain unresolved, despite the proposed project nearing a stage where federal approval could be issued.
While the federal government — in this case, the Bureau of Reclamation — may normally have full authority to issue approval for an infrastructure project like this, Colorado River water is governed by a complicated and oftentimes litigious collection of inter-state compacts and Supreme Court cases known as The Law of the River.
The six states — all of the water rights holders aside from the Beehive State — are alleging Utah is attempting to circumvent this 100-year-old body of laws and compacts, potentially jeopardizing cooperation between the seven states with rights to Colorado River water — one of the west’s most finite and sought-after resources relied on by approximately 40 million people.
“Moreover, we believe the probability of multi-year litigation over a Lake Powell Pipeline (final environmental impact statement) or (record of decision) is high, and that certain Law of the River questions properly left to discussions and resolution between the states are likely to be raised in such suits,” the letter reads.”
In a written statement, the Washington County Water Conservation District said it will work diligently with the other basin states to resolve concerns while the environmental review process is underway.
“The district will join Utah and the basin states in finding mutually agreeable solutions that allow each state to develop its water as has traditionally been the case,” the conservation district wrote.
The six states are looking for ‘consensus’
The Lake Powell Pipeline is Utah’s answer to expected water shortages as more and more people are projected to move to the arid desert of Washington County over the next several decades.
Projections from Utah expect population in the greater St. George area to balloon from about 180,000 people today to nearly a half-million by 2065, creating a need for water that exceeds what’s currently available, according to proponents of the project.
At peak production, the pipeline is proposed to transport about 86,000 acre-feet of water a year from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow Reservoir 140 miles away, not only increasing the amount of water available but adding another source of water to southwestern Utah’s portfolio, which currently relies solely on sources in the Virgin River Basin.