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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Conservation groups say Iron County water project is unnecessary

A view of Iron County from Cedar Highlands, which is just east of Cedar City.
Lexi Peery
A view of Iron County from Cedar Highlands, which is just east of Cedar City.

Conservation groups are claiming the Pine Valley Water Supply project in Iron County is unnecessary and they released a report Wednesday outlining why.

Utah Rivers Council and Great Basin Water Network wrote the report and were joined by a local tribal leader and nearby county commissioner in opposing the project. It involves a series of wells and a 70-mile pipeline that pulls water from outside of the county.

The report says Iron County is using outdated population projections to inflate water needs. It also argues the county’s water district isn’t doing enough to conserve.

Zach Frankel, the executive director of Utah Rivers Council, said that’s a problem because of the burden the project will have on residents.

“The Central Iron County Water [Conservancy] District used faulty data to exaggerate the future need for water in Iron County by 46%,” he said, “and the purpose of that was to justify this $260 million spending project.”

The report said the district is “intentionally” keeping water use high to create the appearance that the project is needed. It compared Iron County’s goal to conserve 28% of water over the next 50 years to other desert cities.

Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said the project doesn’t rely on good data or transparency.

“They're fudging the numbers with population estimates, they're purposely narrowing the hydrographic and geographic scope, they're trying to limit what we know will ultimately be the true impacts on wildlife and air quality and just so many other areas,” he said. “If they're going to fudge or fabricate, you know, just on population data, what else is there?”

Paul Monroe, the general manager of the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District, called the report inflammatory and misleading. He said state population projections were adjusted because they haven’t been as realistic as their actual growth. Though, he said the numbers that are brought up in the groups’ report can be adjusted.

As for conservation, he said it’s something they can do more of.

“We do have conservation plans in place,” Monroe said. “We like the directions of our policies and some of the things that we've done for new growth in the way that we're developing houses and homes for the future.”

He said it’ll be cheaper for the district to pursue the water project than buying up old water rights, which he said have jumped in price recently. He added, the project is needed because of the expected growth and because of the state’s new Groundwater Management Plan, which requires more water to be left in the area’s aquifer. The Cedar Valley has relied heavily on groundwater.

“The municipalities are going to lose 75% of the water that they have,” Monroe said. “It becomes really difficult to be able to conserve your way out of that if you have to provide for your existing customers and as well as the future growth of people that are coming.”

The project is currently under federal environmental review and public comment for it is open until Friday.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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