Scoping comments by Living Rivers about environmental issues for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline Project, Utah and Arizona, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Project No. 12966-002).
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Click here to download Coalition letter of November 19, 2008
Click here to download Coalition letter of January 5, 2009
Projections have doubled
Inflation driving up cost estimate of planned Lake Powell pipeline
Plan now tabbed at $1.1 billion, but that's before debt service
By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 07/18/2008 09:43:55 PM MDT
The estimated cost of building the Lake Powell pipeline has nearly doubled in three years and could continue to grow.
State officials on Friday say they expect construction of the 174-mile pipeline that would bring water to Washington, Kane and Iron counties would cost at least $1.1 billion. In 2005, the cost estimate was $585 million.
"We're still working through the economic analysis," said Eric Millis, spokesman for the Utah Division of Water Resources. "This is a good snapshot of where the project is now."
But the estimate doesn't include debt service on bonds, which pipeline critics say could push the ultimate cost much higher, perhaps beyond residents' ability to pay.
Paul Van Dam, a former Utah attorney general and director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, said debt repayment would at least triple the pipeline cost to $3 billion, and could reach $6 billion by the time the project is finished.
"It's pretty striking that this cost estimate can double in three years. What's going to happen in the next three years?" Van Dam said. "I wonder how in the world anyone thinks these counties can pick up these costs?"
The engineers who put together the construction estimate included building small hydroelectric stations on the pipeline.
A line-item breakdown of the estimate shows the hydroelectric components account for $95.5 million of base construction costs for Washington County.
Necessary electrical transmission lines would cost about $73.3 million. Together, they come to about one-quarter of Washington County's total cost. A 15 percent contingency would be added to the base.
Power transmission would account for $14.8 million of the Cedar City spur, which would incur a base construction cost of about $100 million. Kane County's base cost estimate is $5.3 million.
The pipeline would provide about 100,000 acre-feet of water per year, with 70 percent going to Washington County, 20 percent to Iron County and 10 percent to Kane County. An acre-foot is enough for one or two households a year.
While the hydroelectricity generated by falling water in the 69-inch diameter pipes could offset the cost of the power needed to pump the water uphill, there still would be a net energy loss, Millis said.
But he couldn't say whether it might be less expensive to build the pipeline and pump the water uphill without the added hydroelectric construction costs.
"We know that we have to pay for the pumping regardless," Millis said. "We know first and foremost that it's a water development project.
Strong has said the state chose the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as the lead agency on the water-delivery project because licensing the hydro and then doing required environmental studies of the massive project would be quicker and less expensive than with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management at the helm as originally planned.
FERC says it could produce 300 megawatts of power, equivalent to the needs of at least 225,000 households. But even FERC acknowledges it will take far more power to pump the water uphill than the little electric projects could yield. The hope is that selling the electricity at peak-hour prices will raise extra cash.
The money would go to a state-run enterprise fund set up to pay for operations, maintenance and other costs associated with the project, Millis said.
Pipeline costs: Lake Powell project looks less like smart idea
Article Last Updated: 07/21/2008 06:57:53 PM MDT
More scientists are making more dire predictions about how much the Colorado River water levels could shrink in coming years due to climate change and less snowpack in the Rockies.
At the same time, the estimated price tag on a pipeline to carry 100,000 acre feet of that dwindling water from Lake Powell 139 miles to three Utah counties grows ever bigger. In fact, it has nearly doubled in the three years the pipeline project has been on the Utah Division of Water Resources' drawing board, from its original $585 million to $1.1 billion at least.
The uncertainty about future water flow and the eventual cost of the pipeline makes the project too risky. Taking that risk would be foolhardy, when conservation of existing water sources could make the pipeline unnecessary.
Opponents of the project, many of whom live in the St. George area, where the additional water would encourage more growth (read: sprawl), say the project could end up costing $6 billion.
That is speculation, of course. So is the DWR estimate, which does not include debt service on bonds needed to finance the project. The three counties that would benefit from the additional water - Washington, Iron and Kane - will pay off the debt. At least, that's the current plan. But if the cost continues to escalate as steeply as it has so far, it's doubtful the counties would be able to raise connection fees and water rates enough to make the payments. Who would be on the hook then? All Utah taxpayers.
But the most speculative - and most important - of these unknowns is whether the pipeline will be worthless by the time it is built because the 100,000 acre feet of water it is designed to transport no longer flows into Lake Powell.
Climate scientists believe the American West will feel the effects of climate change more intensely than other areas. Some predict the annual mountain snowpack that feeds not only the Colorado but all the other streams Westerners rely on for drinking water and irrigation will shrink drastically or even disappear. That would leave all Utahns holding the bag - an empty bag attached to hefty debt payments.
The more we learn about the potential effects of this project, both intended and unintended, the less appealing it is. Moving ahead with it could be disastrous.