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April 17, 2020

Kane County (Utah) Opts Out of Lake Powell Pipeline NEPA Process

FROM THE OFFICIAL INFORMATION SOURCE OF THE PIPELINE PROJECT (Washington County Water Conservancy District)

At the request of the Kane County Water Conservancy District (KCWCD), the Bureau of Reclamation will not consider Kane County’s future water supply needs in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP).

KCWCD’s decision to opt out of the NEPA process was made after further review of the county’s projected population growth and available water supply, which indicated the county did not currently have a foreseeable need for the water.

“We continue to support the Lake Powell Pipeline and consider it absolutely essential to the future of southwestern Utah,” said Mike Noel, general manager of KCWCD.

A similar review of Washington County’s projected population growth and available water supply deemed the project essential.

“Washington County is the fastest growing and one of the driest regions in Utah,” said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “The county is projected to triple in the next 40 years and is currently dependent on a single river basin that is almost fully developed. A second, reliable water source is vital for Washington County’s growing population and economy.”

KCWCD was anticipated to receive up to 4,000 acre feet of water per year from the LPP, or approximately 5% of the project’s yield. The water rights for the 4,000 acre feet of water remain with the Utah Board of Water Resources. If the need arises, KCWCD can complete a separate NEPA process and connect to the LPP in the future.

KCWCD’s decision will eliminate an approximately 10-mile pipeline from the LPP into Kane County; no other project changes are needed. The project’s timeline and process are unaltered. Reclamation’s work on the Environmental Impact Statement is ongoing with a draft anticipated for public review and comment this summer.

FROM LEXI PEERY OF THE ST. GEORGE SPECTRUM

Kane County pulls out of Lake Powell Pipeline project ahead of federal review

The Kane County Water Conservancy District has decided to pull out of the Lake Powell Pipeline project, leaving Washington County as the sole proposed user of the pipeline going forward.

The decision comes as the federal government continues and environmental review of the project. The Bureau of Reclamation is developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The NEPA process will determine if the project will go forward and what route it will take.

This one-year review process began in December 2019 and a decision on the pipeline is expected in early 2021. Over 1,000 public scoping comments were submitted until the beginning of January in preparation for the draft EIS, which is expected this summer.

KCWCD made the decision based on “further review” of the county’s population projections and available water, according to the press release announcing the news.

“We continue to support the Lake Powell Pipeline and consider it absolutely essential to the future of southwestern Utah,” Mike Noel, the general manager of KCWCD, said in the release.

Population projections for the state are developed by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The latest projections have Kane County growing by more than 50% by 2065, which would put it at about 11,400 people.

“KCWCD’s decision was made after reviewing the population projections and currently available water supply. Kane County is fortunate to have local water resources that they can develop to meet its currently projected growth. If Kane County grows more than currently projected, KCWCD has the option to complete the necessary NEPA and connect to the LPP in the future,” WCWCD spokesperson Karry Rathje stated.

The environmental work for the project began in 2007, and at the time Iron County was part of it. In 2012, the county’s water district decided to leave the project, finding their current water sources would be sustainable for the future.

The plans for the 140-mile pipeline are unchanged, except for a 10-mile pipeline that would have diverted water from the LPP to Kane County. Rathje stated the pipeline to Kane County was estimated to cost $35 million.

The latest estimated cost of the project is between $1.1 and $1.8 billion. The project would be repaid by impact fees, water rates and property taxes, according to the LPP project website.

The pipeline would bring 86,000 acre-feet annually to the region from Lake Powell. KCWCD would have received about 5% of the project’s total or 4,000-acre feet. The water rights that would have been held by KCWCD would now be held by the Utah Board of Water Resources, according to the release.

The WCWCD has done similar population reviews and found the pipeline to be essential given the expected increase in population, according to the release. The larger county, where the St. George metro area makes up most of the population, is forecasted to grow to more than 500,000 people by 2065.

“Washington County is the fastest growing and one of the driest regions in Utah,” said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, in the release. “The county is projected to triple in the next 40 years and is currently dependent on a single river basin that is almost fully developed. A second, reliable water source is vital for Washington County’s growing population and economy.”

FROM BRIAN MAFFLY OF THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Kane County Utah does an about-face, pulls out of Lake Powell pipeline project

For the past decade, Kane County leaders have argued that their southern Utah community will need water piped from the Colorado River to meet future needs, but the local water district abruptly announced Thursday it was pulling out of the costly Lake Powell pipeline project, leaving Washington County as the only remaining recipient of the water.

The controversial project would divert 86,000 acre-feet of water a year from the chronically depleted Lake Powell into a 143-mile pipeline terminating in a reservoir near St. George. Along the way, the billion-dollar pipeline was to offload 4,000 acre-feet in Johnson Canyon east of Kanab.

But now the Kane County Water Conservancy District has decided it didn’t have a “foreseeable need” for the water after reviewing the county’s projected population growth and available water resources, according to a release posted Thursday.

"We continue to support the Lake Powell pipeline and consider it absolutely essential to the future of southwestern Utah,” said Mike Noel, the district’s general manager and the retired Kanab state lawmaker who has long championed the project.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, and other critics have long pointed to Kane County’s ample groundwater supplies as evidence that there was not much need for the project, which would be financed by Utah taxpayers and tap an already over-allocated Colorado River. More than $25 million has been spent on environmental reviews, with a new one underway by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which assumed federal oversight of the project after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission withdrew.

Kane’s pullout eliminates the need to construct a 10-mile pipe to direct the county’s share of the water to a spot hardly a mile from Noel’s extensive ranch properties in Johnson Canyon.

The project has shrunk substantially from its original version, first unveiled in 2006 legislation. Last year, the Utah Division of Water Resources removed the hydroelectric generation components, which would have enlarged the project’s costs and environmental footprint. Iron County, another original participant, exited years ago, citing the high cost of delivering the water all the way to Cedar City.

But state officials, pointing to the mushrooming growth in and around St. George, maintained there is still a need for the pipeline.

“Washington County is the fastest growing and one of the driest regions in Utah,” said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “The county is projected to triple in the next 40 years and is currently dependent on a single river basin that is almost fully developed. A second, reliable water source is vital for Washington County’s growing population and economy.”

The project’s timeline and process remain unaltered. The Bureau of Reclamation’s review is ongoing with a draft environmental impact statement anticipated for public comment this summer.

FROM UTAH RIVERS COUNCIL

Good News: Kane County Backs Out of Lake Powell Pipeline Fiasco

2nd of 3 Utah Counties Have Now Backed Out of Destructive, Unnecessary, Expensive Lake Powell Pipeline

As a glimmer of good news during uncertain times, Utah water agencies announced today that the Kane County Water District is backing out of the proposed $3 billion Lake Powell Pipeline.

For the last 14 years, the Kane County Water District, claimed that Kane County needed water from the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. The Kane County Water District is a small water supplier that delivers water to a very small percentage of Kane County’s population. Led by former Utah legislator Mike Noel, the water agency was widely criticized for failing to prove its claims for needing the water or coming up with a viable plan to pay for the water.

In 2013, a group of Utah economists performed a lengthy analysis of Pipeline repayment obligations on Kane County residents and found that massive increases to water rates, impact fees and property taxes would be required to pay for the water. The Utah Division of Water Resources and the Kane County Water District claimed they could repay Pipeline costs but provided no substance to their claims.

Then in March 2018, the Utah Rivers Council filed a complaint with the Utah Attorney General’s Office seeking an investigation of Rep Noel and what role the Utah Division of Water Resources had in changing the official documents for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. Our complaint requested a formal investigation to determine if Mr. Noel used government resources to benefit his own private land holdings. The complaint alleges that Mr. Noel may have used his position as both a legislator and as the Executive Director of the Kane County Water District to advance the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline, which might have delivered water to his land holdings in Kane County, estimated to be valued at roughly $4-9 million.

The map below shows Mr. Noel’s personal properties and the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline alignment, as shown in yellow. Roughly 10 miles before the Pipeline reached Kane County’s largest town of Kanab, the Pipeline was slated to make a 90 degree corner and head ~7 miles up Johnson Canyon road, where project documents state the entire Pipeline water supply would be pumped into the ground, just a stone’s throw from Mr. Noel’s properties.

Roughly 10 miles before the Pipeline reached Kane County’s largest town of Kanab, the Pipeline was slated to make a 90 degree corner and head ~7 miles up Johnson Canyon road, where project documents state the entire Pipeline water supply would be pumped into the ground, just a stone’s throw from Mr. Noel’s properties.

The Division of Water Resources has never responded to why the agency revised the official Lake Powell Pipeline planning documents to alter the alignment of the Pipeline to travel towards Mr Noel’s land holdings.

“Kane County residents dodged the bullet on this costly water project” said Zach Frankel, Executive Director of the Utah Rivers Council. “Too bad Washington County residents are still stuck paying a 500% increase in water rates and a doubling of property taxes for water they don’t need and $3 billion in debt they can’t repay” said Frankel.

The Utah Division of Water Resources continues to claim that Washington County needs water from the $3 billion Pipeline, but its justification for the project is based on bogus water demand projections. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Lake Powell Pipeline is slated to be released in June 2020 by the Bureau of Reclamation.

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