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State Panel Orders Lake Powell Pipeline Repayment Plans Released

Utah Department of Water Resources
A map of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. A license application for the project was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week.

A state panel ruled Thursday that Utah citizens have a right to know more about how they might be expected to pay for the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.

Building the massive water line could cost over $2 billion, and water customers in southwestern Utah would be on the hook for repaying that sum to a state fund that’s financed by taxpayers.

The State Records Committee seemed to have these public interests in mind Thursday, when its members unanimously directed the Washington County Water Conservancy District to disclose the details of its repayment scenarios, computer formulas included.

“People need to have access to what those assumptions were in order to respond,” said Marie Cornwall, a records committee member. “I mean this is a – there’s no question that this should be public in my mind.”

The water district retains a Las Vegas consultant to devise financial scenarios to describe the mix of taxes, user fees and connection charges that make up the various repayment plans. The district’s shared those scenarios widely in public presentations, but the district’s lawyer argued the repayment models are in the consultant’s hands and they’re proprietary.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, pushed to have the records released, and he described the ruling as a victory for Utahns who’ve been shown an unrealistic picture of Lake Powell Pipeline financials.

“They’re the ones acting as a bank to lend it to the water users of Washington County, and if the water users of Washington County can’t repay this debt without huge increases water rates, Utah taxpayers will never be repaid.”

The water district has several weeks to decide if it will comply with the ruling or seek an appeal in court.

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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