By Sam Schipani
With rainfall at record lows, water is an increasingly precious commodity in the deserts of southern Utah. But in the driest reaches of redrock country, one long-waged water war thunders even louder than the rest.
Utah legislators and water managers have spent nearly a decade trying to break ground on the 140-mile-long Lake Powell Pipeline, which will carry 77 million gallons of water annually from the Colorado River to nearby Washington and Kane Counties. When all is said and done, the project is estimated to cost somewhere between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. The specifics are unclear as to who is paying for the project, and delays continue ratcheting up the price tag, but part of the burden will probably be borne by Utah taxpayers through raised property taxes, impact fees and spiked water rates; the rest will likely come from state borrowing.
According to Lisa Rutherford, a public lands activist in Washington County, "it is the moneyed interests that are pushing for the pipeline." She said that while 22 economists wrote to the state legislator in 2015 questioning the exorbitant costs the pipeline would impose on Washington County residents, developers stand to make millions of dollars from the project.
Pipeline proponents argue that Utah is merely drawing its rightful allocation of water from the river based on the Colorado River Compact of 1922, and that if it doesn't, other states will take that water. But Rutherford and other conservationists argue that the state has already used its share because the allocations were based on the Colorado River of 1922, replete with 16 million acre feet flows instead of today's 12 or 13 million acre feet. Rutherford believes that the politicians and developers who support the Lake Powell Pipeline project have blinders on. "They want to get that water flowing sooner rather than later in hopes that if the politics change around the river, they'll already have that straw in there," she said.
Anti-pipeline conservationists are concerned about the impacts of the Lake Powell Pipeline on the Colorado River. Different parts of the river—sometimes the upper portion, sometimes the lower, and other times the whole body of water—have been included on American Rivers' annual Most Endangered list several times. The demands on the river for potable water outweigh its supply–nearly 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink water from the Colorado River, and it currently irrigates 15 percent of the nation's crops. According to Dan Mayhew, conservation chair at the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter, climate change is expected to further exacerbate the supply issue, with flows expected to decrease between 10 and 30 percent by 2050.
"We're looking at the health and longevity of the Colorado River, which is critical to the life of humans and wildlife alike," he said. "The data clearly exists and demonstrates that the Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States."
And Washington and Kane Counties (which currently source their water primarily from the Virgin River watershed) are veritable water guzzlers. Due to a perfect confluence of climate, geography, and funding, water rates in the area are incredibly cheap. Without incentives to conserve, the counties have the highest per capita water use in Utah, which has one of the highest per capita water use rates of any state in the country. Add that to the fact that the city of St. George in Washington County is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the U.S., with retirees and vacationers alike seeking a desert oasis close to a wealth of national parks and recreational opportunities. As retirement communities, golf courses, and resorts proliferate, water consumption will likely increase.
"They call St. George Utah's Dixie," Mayhew said. "Everyone knows water is an issue. But at the same time, the culture is very pro-development."
Instead of draining the Colorado River, some groups advocate for smarter use of local sources like the Virgin River, Navajo Aquifer, Sand Hollow Reservoir, and Quail Creek Reservoir. "The alternative is basically managing our local waters better," said Tom Butine, board president of Conserve Southwest Utah. In 2013, his organization along with the Western Resource Advocates submitted a Local Waters Alternative to the state and federal agencies in charge of the Lake Powell Pipeline project, which suggested redistributing the area's water withdrawal across local sources while reducing the consumption per capita by nearly half. Butine said the water district and the state division of water resources didn't recognize the proposed alternative.
"They use water as if it's an unlimited resource, and our local governments charge for water as if it's an unlimited resource," Butine said. "Water conservation is an environmental issue, and so we think we should instill a conservation ethic for water here."
The Washington County Water Conservancy District sees it differently. Karry Rathje, the water district's public information manager, says that after the governor of Utah established a water conservation goal for all cities to reduce their use 25 percent by 2025, Washington County was the first county to meet and exceed that bar. Their seasonal newsletter, she points out, includes tips for both indoor and outdoor water conservation.
Ron Thompson, general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District, adds that drawing from local water sources will stress those river systems and fail to meet the needs of the growing population. The Virgin River, for example, is a small river system with limited watershed at a much lower altitude (read: without the cost-saving benefit of gravity to transport it). Moreover, it is home to a number of native species, including two listed fish that are currently thriving.
Thompson acknowledges that the Colorado River flows are not quite what they were in 1922, but he said, "That water was set aside for these communities to sustain them in the future, and we have as much right to it as anyone else. It's Utah's water; we're entitled to it by the compact."
The long fight over the pipeline has involved its share of political dealings. The state applied for the project in May 2016 through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, even though the project's main purpose was clearly for water delivery and not energy generation. Even the six hydroelectric facilities along the pipeline are slated to be used primarily to power the pipeline's pump stations.
"I think the state asked FERC to do it because traditionally it is a much less public process," Butine said. "I think the state thought it would be much easier to get FERC to grant it than any other agency."
This assumption seems to have been correct. The state's 6,000-page licensing application for the Lake Powell Pipeline cost $33 million to prepare but was submitted to FERC as an unfinished draft that had not been reviewed by the Utah Division of Water Resources. Nevertheless, FERC gave its initial approval to the project in December 2017. FERC later put the review on hold over questions of the agency's jurisdiction over the project.
One pipeline proponent, Utah representative Mike Noel, owns 700 acres of land and substantial water rights in Kane County's Johnson Canyon, where the pipeline will pump 3.5 million gallons a day. He failed to disclose the holdings in state filings as potential conflicts of interest, and claims no such conflict exists. Meanwhile, Noel also served as executive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, where he was paid a $120,000 salary and often argued on Capitol Hill that the Lake Powell Pipeline is the only way to meet the water needs of Kane County. The proposed pipeline route also crosses lands recently stripped from Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, whose reduction Noel had pushed in the state legislature.
Noel announced in March that he will not be seeking reelection. He will, however, continue serving on the four-member management committee overseeing the Lake Powell Pipeline.
Between the paused FERC review and the lack of financing, the Lake Powell Pipeline project appears to be on hold for now—Butine notes that where the project's website once showed specific dates for beginning construction, they have since been removed—but after a decade of pushing, pipeline proponents are not likely to falter. While the waters have calmed, environmental groups are still on alert.
"This is one of those things that moves slowly and you keep your eye on, but you're never really sure what will happen next," Mayhew said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
From Noam Chomsky's epic post on his fears of the coming Trump Administration to Michael Moore's damnation of the Flint water crisis to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s first-hand account of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, 2016 was jam-packed with news once again showing our continued disregard for the health of people and the planet.
Though there were many positive news stories last year of people, companies and governments making strides to adopt sustainable practice and transition to renewable energy sources, the world's top scientists still fear the worse as atmospheric CO2 concentrations are just above 400 parts per million, taking us closer to the "danger zone" of 2 degrees celsius increase in temperature relative to pre-industrial time.
Many people think we have already reached the tipping point, but I believe power of people can turn this around. So, here's to a 2017 where millions more people become engaged on the most important environmental issues impacting the future of our planet.
Here are EcoWatch's 20 most read posts of 2016:
Noam Chomsky: 'The Republican Party Has Become the Most Dangerous Organization in World History' via @EcoWatch: https://t.co/2F68fmwa1z— Michael E. Mann (@Michael E. Mann)1480720654.0
2. World's Largest Solar Project Would Generate Electricity 24 Hours a Day, Power 1 Million U.S. Homes
The world's largest solar project would generate electricity 24h/day & power 1 million U.S. homes. https://t.co/l0O8ONf8SA via @EcoWatch— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC 🌎)1477150743.0
Solar Impulse Pilot: 'I Flew Over Plastic Waste As Big As a Continent' https://t.co/plZAn3qlZX @ecowatch #pollution— Blue Planet Society (@Blue Planet Society)1461768350.0
Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone? #CORiver #ColoradoRiver https://t.co/SXFRqrAKGm @billmckibben @EcoWatch https://t.co/YucBjs8Cuy— SaveTheColoradoRiver (@SaveTheColoradoRiver)1471291613.0
5. Mark Ruffalo Delivers Solar Panels to Camp Where Thousands Are Fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline
[email protected] Delivers Solar Panels to Camp Where Hundreds Are Fighting Dakota Access Pipeline via @EcoWatch: https://t.co/KL8AwRuETJ— Leonardo DiCaprio (@Leonardo DiCaprio)1477603334.0
6. Scientists Uncover Array of Strange Animals in Cave That Has Been Sealed Off for 5.5 Million Years
Nation's Longest Bike Path Will Connect Maine to Florida https://t.co/fhvEmpIQup (via @EcoWatch @ECGreenway)— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1470007804.0
Scientists Are Freaking Out Over This 25-Year-Old's Solution to #Superbugs https://t.co/Laxbm4QXd3— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1474921400.0
World's Biggest Sockeye Run Shut Down as Wild Pacific Salmon Fight for Survival via @EcoWatch https://t.co/NVwCjoxcdI— Wildlife Action (@Wildlife Action)1474560829.0
Michael Moore: 10 Things They Won't Tell You About the Flint Water Tragedy, But I Will https://t.co/a3lvwIwPi8 @CleanWaterMI @NRDCWater— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1454198104.0
50,000,000 Trees, 800,000 People, 24 Hours = 1 World record https://t.co/B7F2CmLUG2 via @EcoWatch @GWR #India https://t.co/FcZzEghcXv— Conservation Guide (@Conservation Guide)1468662669.0
Injection of #Fracking Wastewater Caused Kansas’ Biggest Earthquake https://t.co/XSSfMTefDV @POTUS @EPA @GinaEPA #banfracking via @EcoWatch— Frack Action (@Frack Action)1476462433.0
#Monsanto's #Glyphosate Found in California Wines, Even Wines Made With Organic Grapes https://t.co/8IkSC4EiJf via @ecowatch #health #cancer— Green Bean (@Green Bean)1459261629.0
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr: 'I'll see you at #StandingRock' https://t.co/YOs1gMR9b4 via @EcoWatch #climate #NoDAPL… https://t.co/2dZMUN2nfx— climatehawk1 (@climatehawk1)1480552261.0
Unspeakable bill that must be defeated RT Federal Bill Seeks First Native American Land Grab in 100 Years @EcoWatch https://t.co/0zId8y09WK— Bianca Jagger Nicaraguense por gracia de Dios 🇳🇮 (@Bianca Jagger Nicaraguense por gracia de Dios 🇳🇮)1474409619.0
Climate Change Cartoon Goes Viral After Elon Musk, John Green Share It on Twitter https://t.co/keqkzCC0oG @TheCCoalition @carbonmeme— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1473939621.0
[email protected]: #Syria: Another #Pipeline #War https://t.co/YD2NJnpRss @MarkRuffalo @LeoDiCaprio @350 @sierraclub https://t.co/im9w66DfN3— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1456422404.0
Epic Middle East Heat Wave Is Being Compared to Weapon of Mass Destruction via @EcoWatch https://t.co/OryjBYBD6J #YEARSscience— The YEARS Project (@The YEARS Project)1471194911.0
19. Listen to Sen. Inhofe's Response to His Granddaughter Asking Him: 'Why Is It You Don't Understand Global Warming?'
Listen to Sen. Inhofe's Response to His Granddaughter Asking Him: 'Why Is It You Don't Understand Global Warming?' https://t.co/McSXXLXAKp— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1470172211.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
President Obama made a historic announcement Wednesday, saying that the federal government is considering investing in the geothermal power in the rock formations under the Salton Sea in Southern California. Considered to be "the most powerful geothermal reservoirs in the world," the Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.
Mud flies as carbon dioxide gas from deep underground fissures escapes through geothermal mudpots or mud volcanoes, over the southern San Andreas earthquake fault near the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge near Calipatria, California. David McNew
Fifty years ago, Glen Canyon Dam was built above the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River was enslaved to generate electricity to feed the hunger of the booming southwestern cities and suburbs. The Colorado's pulsing flows had carved and nourished the Grand Canyon for millennium, but that came to a crashing halt when the gates were closed and the water was ponded in Lake Powell. The environmental damage and steady decline of one of our nation's crown jewels has led to many calls for restoration of the natural system through the removal of Glen Canyon Dam.
The dam's ability to provide power has shielded it from any serious attempt to bring it down. Times change though and, over the last 16 years, the historic drought in the Southwest U.S. has drained Lake Powell to historic lows, severely diminishing the potential to generate hydroelectricity from the massive turbines encased in Glen Canyon Dam. Water and electricity managers are scrambling to come up with a plan to prop up the lake above what's called "power pool" so they can continue to generate and sell power. Any such solution is, however, clearly a stop-gap measure to keep the dam operational and is doomed to fail when confronted by the realities of climate change.
Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone? - EcoWatch https://t.co/qu3xLvqQc7 @ClimateDesk @CeresNews— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1471384872.0
Fortunately, Obama's announcement offers a true path to the future.
The Salton Sea announcement could create an opportunity to replace the hydroelectric power generated at Glen Canyon Dam and a path forward to restoring the Grand Canyon. The geothermal reservoirs under the Salton Sea are an untapped resource that could add power to the grid as Lake Powell is slowly drained and Glen Canyon Dam is removed. Lake Powell's water could be put into Lake Mead, its downstream sister, thus keeping one fully functioning hydroelectric facility on the grid. Further, this "geo-hydro power trade" could keep the federal government solvent in its current financial contracts to provide electricity to the Southwest U.S.
The idea has already generated a bit of a buzz when Geothermal Resources retweeted this tweet:
Salton Sea Geothermal power could be used replace Glen Canyon hydropower as #climatechange drains Powell. #CORiver https://t.co/Mk9mtkDffQ— SaveTheColoradoRiver (@SaveTheColoradoRiver)1472665768.0
Climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River, indicating the area will become warmer and dryer with even less flow in the Colorado River. Hydroelectricity is threatened at both Lakes Powell and Mead, as well as reservoirs in California. Salton Sea geothermal power could be a breakthrough in building a climate change-resistant Southwest while also preserving and restoring the lifeblood of the region—the Colorado River.
The 16-year drought on the Colorado River has drained Lake Mead and Lake Powell to their combined lowest level in history. But that's nothing compared to what could happen, according to a new study from the State of Colorado.
The study indicates that a drought like the one that happened in 2000 – 2006 "would empty Lake Powell," according to the Aspen Daily News. "Another potential conclusion from the risk study is that any new trans-mountain diversion would only make it more likely that Powell would go below target levels," the publication noted.
And, whether you want to believe it or not, water agencies in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are proposing to do just that. In fact, Denver Water, Northern Water (in Colorado), and the states of Wyoming and Utah are all proposing even more dams and diversions of water out of the river and its tributaries that would accelerate the draining of Lake Powell and cause serious legal consequences for the entire Southwest U.S.
Further, climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S., indicating that it will get hotter and drier, with even less flow into the Colorado River. The lead investigator in the in-progress Colorado report has even said, "I haven't shown the climate change hydrology because it just scares everybody."
Save the Colorado has formally opposed all new proposed dams and diversions out of the river or its tributaries. We believe climate change is real and will have a serious impact on the Colorado River. The solution proposed by the State of Colorado is to buy massive amounts of water from farmers in Colorado, and then let that water run downstream to Lake Powell to keep the water level high enough to produce electricity at Glen Canyon Dam.
This plan is very unlikely to be successful. There's just not enough farmers who would want to sell massive amounts of water in order to keep the hydroelectric turbines spinning. Further, it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year to buy out those farmers even if they would sell.
What makes more sense is a responsible, planned effort by the government to drain Lake Powell, rather than letting drought and climate change do it in a haphazard way.
Lake Powell's days are numbered. The lake was a mistake, it's time to forsake.