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Licensing Agency Fields Complaints About Proposed Lake Powell Pipeline

Judy Fahys/KUER
Washington County relies heavily on the Virgin River Basin for its water supplies, and leaders want water from Lake Powell to accomodate future growth. But critics say the multi-billion-dollar water project isn't needed and costs too much.

Opposition has poured in against the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ended a public comment period on Monday.

Public input’s been coming in for weeks on the project’s preliminary application to FERC, and most of it is critical.

The Utah Division of Water Resources has asked the federal agency to approve its proposal to build the pipeline to deliver around 86,000-acre-feet of water to fast-growing southwestern Utah.

But opponents say project supporters rely on faulty data, and they fail to prove the multi-billion-dollar pipeline is affordable or needed even though $27 million has already been spent over a decade on justifying it.

Washington County resident Lisa Rutherford is a longtime opponent whose pipeline critique is over 40 pages long, and she’s hoping FERC kills the project.

“They certainly have been putting out a lot of information,” she says. “But the problem is, when you look at the information, it just seems to raise more questions than it answers.”

Joshua Palmer, spokesman for the state Division of Water Resources, says all 200-plus comments will be reviewed over the next two months.

“We actually anticipate there will be edits to the documents, based on agency and public feedback and new available information,” he says.

The final application is due before May. Then, FERC is requiring an in-depth environmental review.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are advancing a bill to use a portion of sales-tax revenue to help pay for water projects, including the pipeline.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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