The precarious plan for the Lake Powell Pipeline

Nearly a decade ago, Gabriel Lozada, a man with a wiry frame and waves of steel-gray hair who looks exactly like the mathematician he is, set out to answer what he thought was a relatively simple question: Could Utah’s proposed Lake Powell Pipeline — a plan to ferry Colorado River water to southern Utah — live up to the state’s rosy forecasts of growth and prosperity? Or was it more likely to tank the economy of a small but lively retirement community in the southwestern Utah desert?

Lozada, a theoretical mathematician at the University of Utah and a pro bono consultant for the Utah Rivers Council, suspected that government officials were overstating the pipeline’s benefits and ignoring its potential costs. So he began building a mathematical model of its possible impacts on southern Utah residents. While proponents argued that the project was necessary to stave off water shortages, Lozada warned that it might trigger an economic crisis.

But how could he be sure? Even today, more than a decade after it was first proposed, no one seems to know what the pipeline — with 140 miles of buried pipe and five pumping stations between Lake Powell and the town of St. George — is going to cost, much less how it will impact local water rates. Communications from within Utah’s state water agencies, obtained during this investigation, suggest officials purposefully withheld those details from the very taxpayers who might ultimately be saddled with the bill. Federal officials also seem wary of the state’s scanty financial information. In September, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to take action that would have exempted the state from more rigorous financial scrutiny. Despite this, the state Division of Water Resources “remains fully committed to this project,” according to Division Director Eric Millis.

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High Country News Tue, 10/30/2018 - 09:08