A proposal in the Utah Legislature would greenlight the transfer of nearly $500M from transportation projects to water projects in a move that could funnel money to the proposed Lake Powell pipeline.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) A proposal in the Utah Legislature would greenlight the transfer of nearly $500 million from transportation projects to water projects in a move that could funnel money to the proposed Lake Powell pipeline.
The Utah Senate approved the measure on a 19-10 vote, advancing it to the House, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Stuart Adams of Layton, said ensuring the state's water supply should take precedence over funding things like highway projects.
“I don't like being stuck on I-15. I don't think anybody likes that. But running out of water is, I think, significantly more impactful than being stuck on a freeway,” Adams said, according to The Spectrum newspaper in St. George.
Adams said the measure would help fund future water projects to help with the state's growing population. That could include two major pipeline projects that conservation groups and others have said may be unnecessary.
One pipeline project would pull water from Bear River in northern Utah. The other, the billion-dollar Lake Powell pipeline, would pull water from the Colorado River to growing southwestern Utah counties.
The Utah Department of Transportation estimates that Adam's funding bill would divert nearly half a billion dollars from its road projects over an 11-year period.
The department noted that legislators just last year voted to raise gasoline taxes by five cents per gallon to keep up with transportation demands.
Several senators questioned the impacts on the state's transportation grid and said they want to see more details.
“We all feel that water is the limiter in our future economic growth and we have to develop the water, but the question is who pays for it and how,” said Sen. Howard Stephenson, a Republican from Draper.
Sen. Stephen Urquhart said with limited federal funds, the state should be ready to step up and help pay for projects.
Urquhart said past generations have built the infrastructure we now use, arguing that this is “now our torch to bear.”
Environmentalists have raised questions about who will really foot the bill for the Lake Powell pipeline, which is expected to begin construction in 2020.
A few dozen environmentalists went to a meeting of the state board of water resources this week to express their concern with the lack of transparency about the Lake Powell pipeline project.
Washington County Water Conservancy District manager Ron Thompson has said officials believe the pipeline will cost about a billion dollars and the water districts will have 50 years to repay the state.
Some University of Utah economists say they believe the high cost of the project may lead the water district to hike water rates so high that residents eventually use less water and eliminate the need for the pipeline entirely.
A university study on the project found that the water district would have to raise fees by at least 123 percent and water rates by 576 percent to pay for the pipeline.