Proposed pipeline to drain water from Lake Powell

From the Los Angeles Times:

In the works:  A 140-mile long pipeline to bring water from Lake Powell to a county in southwestern Utah situated roughly 90 miles east of Las Vegas.  As currently designed, the pipeline will send 86,000 acre feet – nearly 77 million gallons of water a day – from Lake Powell to Sand Hollow reservoir in Washington County.


Like many localities in the Southwest, Washington County has experienced rapid population growth in recent years, a trend which is predicted to continue into the foreseeable future.  Since 1990, the county population has tripled to 165,000 residents, a figure that is predicted to more than triple again by 2060.

The pipeline, to be financed by the state of Utah, was authorized in 2006 by the state legislature.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is now to trying to decide whether to begin a two-year study of the likely environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the pipeline.

Opponents of the pipeline argue that building it is unnecessary, because Washington County residents use too much water, even compared to other localities in the Southwest.  For example, per capita water use in Washington County and neighboring St. George County averages around 300 gallons a day.  By comparison, per capita water use in Phoenix is around 175 gallons per day.

Opponents say the problem is extremely low water rates charged by the local water conservation district, under which an average family of four pays about $50 per month for water, plus a meter fee.  By raising rates and implementing various water conservation measures, they argue, the need for the pipeline can be avoided.

“It’s much more reasonable and much less expensive to implement serious water conservation measures and to implement water rate changes,” said Lisa Rutherford, a member of Conserve Southwest Utah, an environmental group in St. George. “As the area grows, those two changes by themselves will push water usage down and alleviate the need for any pipeline.”

For years now, economists have been arguing that the days of relying on development of new water supplies are numbered.  But people are remarkably resistant to managing the other half of the supply-demand equation.  And our continued resistance to demand management has significant consequences for the environment.

Published by

Mark Kanazawa

I am Wadsworth A. Williams Professor of Economics at Carleton College, Northfield, MN