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Lake Powell Pipeline Approved for Environmental Analysis (Temorarily Suspended)

December 26, 2017
by John Weisheit

Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Flaming Gorge Reservoir

LATEST NEWS: 

INTERVENOR SUBMISSIONS (Original due date was February 9, 2018)

NOTE: It is important to understand that the water for Lake Powell Pipeline is actually stored in Flaming Gorge Reservoir near the Wyoming/Utah border. Once the water is released, it flows down the Green River and then into Lake Powell, where the proposed pipeline begins.

NOTE: Scroll down for information to help you submit timely comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision.

From The Salt Lake Tribune by Emma Penrod (December 13, 2017)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has given its initial approval to Utah's application to build the controversial Lake Powell Pipeline to pipe Colorado River water from Glen Canyon Dam 140 miles to St. George, but many hurdles remain for the project. Federal regulators have tentatively approved Utah's application to build the Lake Powell Pipeline, but they've also thrown the state an unexpected curveball.

On Tuesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a notice that it had accepted Utah's application to construct the 140-mile pipeline, intended to pump Colorado River water from Glen Canyon Dam to St. George and 12 other southern Utah communities. That, FERC said, clears the way for a full study of the project's environmental impacts.

This is a major milestone toward meeting Southern Utah's need to diversify its water supply and develop additional resources to meet anticipated demand, Eric Millis, director of the state Division of Water Resources, said in a statement. Permitting a water project is a lengthy process and this is a significant step.

But FERC also said it was reviewing just how much jurisdiction it actually has over the project, a move that could slow down ultimate approval for the billion-dollar-plus underground pipeline, which is already running behind schedule.

State officials filed the permit application with FERC in 2016 because the Lake Powell Pipeline at least as currently proposed, is expected to include hydroelectric generating stations along its route through Arizona and Utah. Officials with the Division of Water Resources had long expected that FERC would also be the lead federal agency on the entire project, giving it a key role in obtaining additional permits.

But in its Tuesday notice, FERC said it may only have jurisdiction over the six hydroelectric sites along the route, not the whole pipeline and network of pumping stations and water storage facilities.

If that proves true, it could put Utah more directly in charge of navigating a lengthy review from a host of other federal agencies, forcing additional work on to the Division of Water Resources, which has already spent more than $30 million in taxpayer funds to obtain permits for the pipeline so far.

As proposed, the pipeline would pump water from Lake Powell about 50 miles northwest to a high point within the area of the former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, according to the FERC notice. The water would then flow just under 90 miles downhill through a series of six hydroelectric turbines before arriving at Sand Hollow Reservoir, east of St. George. Officials with the Division of Water Resources have said they expect the pipeline to cost between $1.1 to $1.8 billion.

FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said Tuesday the agency had assumed it would not take jurisdiction over the entire water project just the hydroelectric turbines. She said the commission still planned to produce documentation required by other agencies, such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, that have a say in the pipeline's fate.

A spokesman for the Division of Water Resources said late Tuesday it was unclear exactly what the FERC announcement means, given that state officials had written their application assuming FERC would lead the permitting process.

While a shift in jurisdiction would not necessarily boost the number of permits Utah officials have to obtain before breaking ground, those permits could be subject to new and different kinds of review if FERC does not play the role state leaders thought, raising the potential for further delays.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council and a long-time opponent of the pipeline, noted that if other agencies play a bigger role in the permitting process, that could subject the pipeline to more in-depth review of whether the project is necessary.

Establishing the purpose and need for a pipeline, said Frankel, will be an important part of the environmental assessment study, which FERC said will be conducted according to the National Environmental Policy Act. If it isn't properly satisfied, Frankel said, the courts can rule against an agency in the event a permitting decision is challenged.

But FERC's move could also allow the agency to evaluate the pipeline solely with respect to demand for hydroelectricity, and not water opening the possibility that state officials would not have to prove, as has been asserted, that the pipeline is necessary to prevent southwestern Utah from running out of water.

By not considering the rest of the project features, it could be easier to approve, Frankel said in an email. It's not a slam dunk for anyone. FERC has also asked for public comments regarding the pipeline proposal. Comments are due in early February and may be submitted online at:
ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp

  • NOTE: Stay tuned. The public process has temporarily been suspended as of 1/11/18. FERC Announcement.
  • ORINGINAL SCHEDULE: Submissions for interventions and filings are due 60 days from December 11th (February 9, 2018), and public comments are due 105 days from December 11th (March 26, 2018).
  • Comments should reference the proposal's docket number, P-12966-004.
  • Click here to read the document from FERC that initiates the analysis.
MAIL A LETTER TO:
Kimberly D. Bose
Secretary(Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 1st Street, N.E.(Washington, D.C. 20426
RE: P- 12966-001

ONLINE COMMENT
eComment: under 6000 characters

  • Step 1: Go to http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp and fill out the form, including your email. You will be emailed a link.
  • Step 2: Open the link in the FERC email and use the Lake Powell Pipeline docket number to comment: Select P-12966-001
  • Step 3: Write and submit questions, comments and feedback.

Comments from Organizations, Comments Over 6,000 Characters, and Comments Including Photos or Graphics:

eSubscription here at:

  • http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/esubscription.asp
  • When you register for eSubscription and subscribe to a specific docket, P-12966 you'll be notified via email about all future submittals and issuances. You will also be able to retrieve public documents through the links in the emails.

###

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD: LAKE POWELL PIPELINE

CLICK HERE to visit the FERC document library for the complete administrative record of the Lake Powell Pipeline The docket # is: P-12966.

The docket is huge. You can reduce the query by selecting a subdocket, which are: 001; 002; 003; 004 & 005 (the files are in chronological order).

NEWS

  • Click here to read this story by David DeMille of  The St. George Daily Spectrum
  • Click here to read this OpEd from Robert Gehrke of The Salt Lake Tribune
  • Click here to read this OpEd from the Editorial Board of The Salt Lake Tribune

TALKING POINTS TO HELP COMPOSE YOUR LETTER TO FERC

  • Click here to learn more about the Lake Powell Pipeline (LLP) and to review the archive of documents
  • Click here to learn more about the LLP water stored in Flaming Gorge; the Ultimate Phase water right
  • Click here to read great information from the website of Conserve Southwest Utah

It is important to understand that the water for Lake Powell Pipeline is actually stored in Flaming Gorge Reservoir near the Wyoming/Utah border. Once the water is released, it flows down the Green River and then into Lake Powell, where the proposed pipeline begins.

The priority of this water right is low and the cost to build this project is high, and so it is a speculative gamble. The authority to even move the project forward is based on human documents for a supply that Nature cannot provide. So the water to fill the pipeline will arrive from water transfers from agriculture. This is the hidden cost of the project and for perpetuity. In the near future, every municipality in the basin will be chasing water transfers and the market will become highly competitive and consequently expensive.

1) On May 6, 2011, the day the coalition of intervenors filed their comment letter with FERC opposing the project, the Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Utah signed the following: Agreement of Utah and the United States for Securing the Central Utah Project Water Supply.
 
The agreement states that the water rights for Lake Powell Pipeline are now subordinate to the younger water rights of the Central Utah Project. When a shortage declaration is announced, or when there is a Compact Call--and depending on the severity of the shortage--water to the Lake Powell Pipeline will be cut-off before deliveries to the Central Utah Project. This agreement is much like the water right of the Central Arizona Project, which is subordinate to the state of California.
 
2) In 2007 the Bureau of Reclamation responded to the Upper Colorado River Commission about the safe yield of water withdrawals from Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The water in Flaming Gorge is available not only to Utah, but also to Wyoming and Colorado. Reclamation determined the annual safe yield is 165,000 acre-feet. The mandate of Reclamation is to ensure hydropower generation and maintain instream flows for the critical habitat of endangered fish (and recreation) of the Green River. 

See: Water Marketing from Flaming Gorge Reservoir

3) A different use for this water is now being developed by the upper basin states: Drought Contingency Planning. Though the plan has not been formally adopted, the preliminary information provided so far includes the emergency release of surplus water from upper basin reservoirs to maintain hydropower generation at Lake Powell. This likely means the water right of Lake Powell Pipeline will be subordinate to the mandate of Drought Contingency Planning. The states may unwisely give the LLP an exemption, so the public will have to see what the final agreement entails.

The fact that Drought Contingency Planning documents are under development clearly indicates the water budget of the Colorado River is seriously impaired, and any-and-all future projects in the Colorado River should be abandoned for the simple reason that it is the intelligent choice.

See: Drought Contingency Planing Update  (October, 2017)

The document above indicates the maximum evacuation of upper basin reservoirs to Lake Powell would be as high as 2 million acre-feet. Incidentally, the generators at Glen Canyon Dam would discharge 2 million acre-feet in about 3 months. When considering the 2007 document by Reclamation cited in #2 (above), this estimate of 2 million acre-feet must be an exaggeration. The document from Reclamation explains that the annual release could not exceed more than 165,000 acre-feet per year. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is the third largest reservoir by volume in the Colorado River Basin. The smaller upper basin reservoirs, such as Blue Mesa on the Gunnison River and Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan River, could not possibly release more than 165,000 acre-feet.

4) UTE INDIAN WATER COMPACT: This tribal water right has yet to be fully developed; the tribes water right is senior to the Central Utah Project and the Lake Powell Pipeline. According to Utah law (Title 73, Chapter 21 Ute Indian Water Compact), and in perpetuity, the Ute Indian Tribe and others can deplete 248,943 acre-feet per annum from a total diversion of 471,035 acre-feet per annum. This water compact is more fully set out in the "Tabulation of Ute Indian Water Rights," which is on file with the Utah State Engineer. The oldest priority date of this appropriation is October 3, 1861; there are other tribal priority rights that are in the 1880s.

5) Economics (from Utah Rivers Council): A group of 20 economists from several Utah universities analyzed the impact that $2 billion of debt would have on residents of Washington and Kane Counties. They found that repaying this debt would require dramatic increases in water rates, impact fees and property taxes far outweighing the benefits of extra water.

In fact, the cost was so prohibitive that when Iron County residents who were also slated to receive water learned the true cost of the pipeline, they pressured their elected officials to formally withdraw from the project. Iron County's reversal is a warning to Washington & Kane County residents: Shouldering massive debt and rate increases for unneeded water is a bad recipe for the future.
  • Read the letter from the economists HERE
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