Letter to the Editor: Aren’t we just a bunch of bullying bullfrogs gambling our way to the Lake Powell Pipeline

Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah, date not specified | National Park Service photo, St. George News

OPINION — This is to respond to the recent article entitled “Forecast: Lake Powell to Get Historically Low Spring Runoff this Year.”  It confirms the latest news in a long pattern.

Climate change is already occurring.  As a result, less rain and snow are generally falling within the upper watershed.  The Colorado River flows in most recent years average well below what is legally allocated for human diversion and use.  The water levels of lakes Powell and Mead are very low.  The basic math tells us that the Colorado River water supply is going down and the human demand for it is going up.

Read more: Forecast: Lake Powell to get historically low spring runoff this year

We are creating a slow-motion, self-imposed future day of reckoning.  It reminds me of how you supposedly boil a bullfrog: Put it in a pot of cold water and slowly warm it up until it discovers – too late – that it waited too long to jump out and it is cooked. We have met the bullfrog and it is us. The only questions for this apparently inevitable day of reckoning are: When will it occur and how devastating will it be in terms of economic, social, and environmental damages?

The proposed Lake Powell Pipeline is the perfect example of our collective social and political inability to face reality, use science and plan in a mature and courageous fashion for a prosperous future for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.

For over a decade, the LPP has been pushed with unabashed enthusiasm by prominent Utah state and local officials, business leaders and the Congressional delegation. Over $30,000,000 has been spent on studies thus far. Despite all of these years and public dollars, the Utah application that was submitted on the LPP was incomplete and there is still no credible study on how much this likely multibillion-dollar project will eventually cost.

Under Utah law, the LPP’s massive debt must eventually be paid off by the residents of Washington and Kane counties. We would be on the LPP hook or perhaps more aptly in the pot with the bullfrog.

Our Utah Congressional delegation sent a strong letter to President Trump last March demanding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency expedite the National Environmental Policy Act and other legal LPP reviews and to have them completed by this year. This demand and deadline are patently ridiculous unless NEPA and the other federal laws – intended to ensure objective review, ample opportunities for public involvement and sound decisions – are completely ignored. So either the Utah delegation was advocating that President Trump and FERC engage in grossly illegal, undemocratic, and authoritarian actions to approve the LPP or they were completely clueless. You get to decide which is likely to be true.

Years ago, Utah officials pushed to have FERC be the “lead agency” to conduct the NEPA process. At the time, this seemed bizarre because application of the legal criteria for deciding on the best NEPA lead agency under these facts would lean much more toward the Bureau of Reclamation or Bureau of Land Management. It was suspected that Utah wanted FERC because it had a reputation for being ruthless about NEPA compliance and so byzantine that the public would largely be discouraged from becoming involved. In short, it appeared that Utah did not really want the transparent “hard look” of NEPA but rather a streamlined and more clandestine process with a rubber stamp at the end.

Negotiations are currently underway between Utah and BOR officials to develop a tentative exchange contract for transporting water through BOR facilities to ultimately deliver it to the mouth of the future LPP.

Read more: Negotiations begin for ‘water exchange’ key to the Lake Powell Pipeline

When these negotiations determine the actual costs to be paid to BOR by Utah, those costs will be added to Utah’s application for the LPP. These costs will also be added to the analysis in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that is being prepared under NEPA for future public review and comment.

When the DEIS is eventually released, the public should then have adequate time to carefully review the information, especially the comparison of alternatives and their associated costs. This is a particularly important review opportunity for us pay-off-the-massive-debt bullfrogs living in Washington and Kane counties. After the comment period ends on the DEIS, all comments should be carefully considered and addressed when FERC then prepares a Final Environmental Impact Statement.  Since there is virtually no chance of Utah officials allowing any sort of initiative or other public vote on the LPP, the NEPA process is the only meaningful way for the public to become more informed and involved, and to have a say in the decision making process.

In spite of the past Utah political rush toward LPP approval, Utah officials recently asked FERC to put the application process on hold. A jurisdictional question has arisen about whether FERC should have primacy over a large portion of the LPP alignment that would normally be within BLM’s jurisdiction. Perhaps the FERC staff belatedly discovered that they got played by Utah’s past bullying tactics and they are getting cold feet. Perhaps the FERC staff also recognize that the LPP is intended as a massive water delivery project, with the six proposed hydro stations as mere ancillary benefits.

FERC has jurisdiction for hydroelectric facilities, not water delivery structures. If constructed, the LPP would still use more energy to pump water uphill than it would generate in downhill hydro stations. That is basic physics. If FERC staff have indeed woken up and smelled the coffee, and no longer accept Utah’s “tail wagging the dog” approach to NEPA and agencies’ jurisdictions, then there may be a small ray of hope that Utah’s bullying may have lost at least some of its past influence.

I am old enough to remember when most Republican politicians, at all levels of government, were fiscal conservatives. They believed that we should maintain balanced governmental budgets and not spend massive amounts of public money on highly risky or speculative “boondoggle” projects. Sadly, those days are long gone, and those politicians appear to be extinct throughout Utah, as well as in the U.S. Congress. Now the politicians seem to be in a competition to see who can spend the most public money like drunk sailors on shore leave.

It is easy to gamble with someone else’s money even when there are high stakes and long odds. That’s exactly what our Utah politicians are doing: gambling on the long-shot LPP boondoggle despite the uncertain costs and uncertainty of future Colorado River water supplies. And they even have the audacity to use our public money to pay private lobbyists to continue to push the LPP. It is Utah’s political version of a perpetual fiscal motion machine. Put some public money in and get more millions of public money out. The contracted consulting firms doing LPP studies must be very happy, and perhaps they share some of their largess in the form of generous campaign contributions.  The circle goes around and around.

Maybe someday we bullfrogs in Utah will start voting for better elected officials who are much more responsible about their handling of our money, our democratic processes and our future. Or, if the status quo continues, we will all surely end up boiled alive.

Submitted by RICHARD SPOTTS, St. George.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

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12 Comments

  • Walter1 February 11, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    The problem really isn’t that there is not enough water. The real problem is that greedy developers building too much and the City leaders allowing it. The same severe water overuse that has happened to Tucson, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Palm Springs and the Borrego California areas will certainly happen in Dixie’s near future if the government leaders continue to promote growth at any cost. The proposed pipeline or “The Pipe Dream” might possibly help water shortages in the future but the costs would be astronomical for all of those who will see their water bills skyrocket into absurdity. Growth does not equal quality of life or affordability. All areas have there nature defined growth limits. This is the desert and water is not abundant. Huge growth and expensive pipelines will only worsen the problem. Wake-up time folks! Dixie desperately needs a change in leadership. Make your vote count!

    • jh9000 February 12, 2018 at 6:07 am

      Developers build homes for your (future) kids to live in and places for companies to set up shop to give them jobs. Without them there wouldn’t be new housing, which just means skyrocketing housing costs –
      something else you’ll undoubtedly complain about when given the opportunity. Developers wouldn’t build if there weren’t people buying their products, so it’s not the developers’ fault but the fact that people have families and those offspring need to live somewhere and they’re probably going to want water, too.

      I don’t know if it’s plain old stupidity or just ignorance that prevents you from seeing the connection between population growth (i.e., your kids, their kids, etc) and the need for more housing development and resources (water, land, roads) but one way or the other it’s going to happen so long as people keep procreating and increasing the population. But yeah, blame developers.

  • comments February 11, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    You know, right off, I can’t see anything to disagree with. I’m not well studied on the technical governmental aspects of the approval process. I do know that these greedy mormon republicans in charge of this pipeline circus are gonna try and screw over the residents of wash. county the very best that they can. As per usual.

    Let that developer money flow, you greedy, unprincipled, corrupt a******s

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    • johncmiller February 11, 2018 at 9:54 pm

      Bravo again!!! You keep hitting them right of the park with your bigoted comments. Such an example, such a model citizen. If only we all could hide behind a fake name and troll around in our big lifted truck when the driver is probably 5’2”.

      • comments February 11, 2018 at 10:46 pm

        and yet, there’s nothing in my post that is untrue. figure it out

    • Tim February 12, 2018 at 7:08 am

      The article makes great sense. You choose to insult the majority of citizens in the area so most will agree with the other side because of your sucky attitude about your neighbors. Grow up, start being reasonable to others and maybe some will listen to you. The article is good and true I believe. You hate Mormons I believe, which has nothing to do with any truth.

      • comments February 12, 2018 at 11:16 am

        Golly Tim, I admit, that actually makes sense. Unintended reverse psychology on my part. I don’t actually hate mormons, and I happen to be a mormon myself (I’m on the official books). I just wish people would use their frickin’ brains. The LDS people here basically trust the LDS politicians here with their lives, and we all get screwed for it at the end of the day with this big pipe. Figure it out….?

  • Striker4 February 11, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    I’m sure they are looking at the Lake Havasu to St George pipeline as a back up plan

  • Larry February 12, 2018 at 7:58 am

    In the Early 1960s’ I was just a kid growing up in Western Colorado…this was when Lake Powell was just starting to fill. there was an old saying that was going around. “Every Snowflake That Falls On The Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, is Over Appropriated”.

  • Lee Sanders February 12, 2018 at 8:35 am

    I have many friends in the St. George area, a large percentage of them retired. I know very few in my circle of friends who were raised here or their parents were raised in the local area. They are almost all from Idaho, northern Utah or especially, California. I don’t believe for a second that the housing being built today is for our future children and grandchildren. I wonder what percent of the folks living in Sun River are natives, for example. I believe that the effort to build up the population and bring in more business is pure and simply, for financial gain by those who are fortunate enough to be in a position to benefit from it. More power to them, it’s the capitalist way, but I sure wish the powers that be would pay attention to all the future downsides of what they’re doing.

    • comments February 12, 2018 at 11:19 am

      The end result of that is that this place will become a less and less pleasant place to live as it expands into a much larger city. Perhaps nothing can be done. And all of us who don’t want to live w/ air pollution, crime, and enormous traffic should start planning our exit in the next few years.

      • comments February 12, 2018 at 11:21 am

        And yes, most of this new housing going up is for older senior people that are relocating here.

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