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Is Another Colorado River Pipeline The Answer To Southern Utah's Booming Economy?



An aerial picture of the Colorado River.

The economy is booming again in Southern Utah.

New homes and businesses are popping up all around St. George, Utah, some 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

So, Washington County officials are hoping a 30-year-old plan to build a 140-mile water pipeline from Lake Powell to their area will move forward.

The pipeline would cost more than $1 billion and would pump 77 million gallons a day from the lake. 

Aside from regulatory hurdles the pipeline has to jump, there are big concerns about what other users of the Colorado River would say about a new straw into the West's most precious water resource.  

Luke Runyon is a reporter for KUNC, a public radio affiliate in Colorado, who is focusing on issues related to the drought and the Colorado River.  

Runyon said Utah does have a right to that water under the original pact that sliced up the river.

“That’s the argument Utah state officials and Washington County officials are trying to make here to get this pipeline built,” he said, “But a lot of environmentalists are saying just because something is legal doesn’t mean it should be done.”

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However, that original pact was signed in the 20s and there are questions about whether the river flows it was based are accurate today. 

“A lot of environmentalists and scientists say the main guiding document for the river’s management is flawed," Ruynon said.

During the 20s, the Colorado River Basin was experiencing usually wet years, which made the river run much higher than normal. Now, the river has returned to a more natural state.

Runyon said Utah and other states in the basin who have not hit their allocation maybe, “trying to claim water that might exist on paper but might not exist in reality.”

However, Runyon said he doesn't think there is going to be much complaining about the project from water managers in other states.

First, because it is not illegal for Utah to claim that water.

Second, it is against the norm for water managers to criticize projects in other states no matter how unrealistic or expensive.

“Once you go down that path of criticizing someone else’s project you run the risk of them turning around and doing the exact same thing to you and then everyone just comes out angry and bloody,” Runyon explained.

And finally, many people who study water policy believe the project won't get off the ground. It is what many people refer to as a 'zombie project,' which are water projects that don't really die but continue to "limp along for forever" because water managers can point to them as efforts to solve possible water shortages.

Runyon said the federal government doesn't pay for water projects like that one anymore and states don't have the money for them, but politicians can't really be opposed to them for fear of reprisals at the voting booth.


Luke Runyon, reporter, KUNC

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