Pipeline and dam dreams

  • The Sand Hollow Reservoir, southwest of Hurricane, Utah. The reservoir could receive water pumpted more than 100 miles from Lake Powell for use in the booming city of St. George

    Doug Wilson/Washington County Water Conservancy District
 

A new dam for Utah’s urban Wasatch Front and a pipeline for the fast-growing city of St. George got a boost in February, when the state Legislature approved a bill directing about $8 million a year to "preconstruction" work on the projects.

The money, from state sales and use tax, will fund environmental studies and engineering work for a 127-mile, $370 million pipeline to move water from Lake Powell to St. George, in the southeast corner of the state. The population of Washington County, where St. George is located, has been growing at about 6 percent a year.

"We might be able to support the growth that is anticipated by 2020 through conservation and some smaller-scale projects," says Barbara Hjelle, the assistant manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District. "(But) we believe that pipeline would have to be constructed by about 2020."

The $680 million Bear River dam project is designed to provide water for urban growth in Wasatch Front cities such as Logan and Ogden (HCN, 4/29/02: The Great Salt Lake Mystery). But the need there is far less pressing, and the project isn’t likely to be built for several decades.

Erinn Neyrey with the conservation group Utah Rivers Council says projections for the Front show a shortfall of only 20,000 acre-feet, or enough water for about 40,000 homes, by 2050. She says that shortage could easily be plugged — for far less money than the cost of the dam — by conserving water and transferring water from farms to cities.