KBPS podcast with Lake Powell Pipeline Discussion

November 27, 2020; San Diego News Matters

Listen to the podcast here https://www.kpbs.org/podcasts/san-diego-news-matters/2020/nov/27/covid-rise-county-plans-vaccine-roll-outs/ or read the copied transcript below:

“Coming up on the podcast… Some long-planned water projects in the Colorado River basin have hit big roadblocks this year.

“All the other times we thought it might go away, it never did.” (0:05)

The environmentalists who oppose the dams and pipelines are celebrating… cautiously. That story is next, just after the break.

2020 has been a tough year for some of the Colorado River basin’s most controversial water projects. Proposals to divert water in New Mexico, Nevada and Utah have run up against significant legal, financial and political roadblocks. Now, It’s still unclear whether they are really gone or just waiting in the wings. KUNC’s Luke Runyon reports.

TRACK: Laura Paskus is an environmental journalist in New Mexico. For years, she’s been following the twists and turns of a long-proposed project in the state’s southwest corner, called the Gila River Diversion.

PASKUS3: “The most recent kind of plan was to build this diversion in the Cliff-Gila Valley.
And provide water to irrigators…”

TRACK: … like farmers and ranchers. It was initially proposed in 2004. And it came with a commitment of federal funds to cover some of the cost. Paskus says that kept the
effort alive for more than a decade.

PASKUS4: “But there was never a really solid plan of how it would be built, how it would be paid for.”

TRACK: And that’s why the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission finally called it quits in June – AFTER seventeen million dollars had been spent on engineering plans and consultants over the years.

SIWIK17: “It was a big surprise.”

TRACK: That’s Allyson Siwik. She directs the Gila Conservation Coalition, one of the environmental groups opposed to the project.

SIWIK: “Because all the other times we thought it might go away, it never did.”

TRACK: She says the total cost of the diversion project would have made the water it eventually provided unaffordable to those who wanted it.

SIWIK16: “It was time. You just couldn’t keep spending money on this, especially when the economics, the financials just didn’t pencil out.”

TRACK: A similar drama played out in Nevada earlier this year. For decades water providers in Las Vegas have been pursuing a plan to pump groundwater from northern Nevada, and pipe it 300 miles to the fast-growing metro area in the Mojave Desert.

ROERINK13: “15, 20 years ago, you were hearing folks down in Vegas scream bloody murder that, ‘if we don’t get this water, you know the world is going to explode.

TRACK: Kyle Roerink runs the Great Basin Water Network. The group formed specifically to oppose the so-called Las Vegas pipeline.

ROERINK:”Children are gonna be starving and dying of dehydration …. and those were just scare tactics.”

TRACK: The Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency pushing for the pipeline, hit legal hurdles this past spring. Just as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold, a judge denied some water rights associated with it. A month later the authority chose not to appeal and tabled the pipeline all together.

ROERINK12: “So that was almost a de facto white flag surrender.”

TRACK: Instead Roerink says, the water authority recommitted to aggressive conservation programs to keep water use in check while continuing to add new customers. That’s something environmental advocates are hoping to replicate in southern Utah with the Lake Powell Pipeline. Zach Frankel is with the Utah Rivers Council.

FRANKEL1: “The state of Utah is proposing to divert Colorado River water down the Lake Powell pipeline simply to use more of its water rights out of the Colorado River.”

TRACK: But political pressure from other users on the river is slowing it down. In September every other state that relies on the river besides Utah teamed up to say the project has too many unresolved issues to move forward.

FRANKEL3: “We were pleasantly surprised to see six states come together to oppose the advancement of the Lake Powell pipeline. It’s a very strong letter because it openly threatens litigation.”

TRACK: But just because one iteration of a project is sidelined, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. In New Mexico, journalist Laura Paskus says the water rights that are foundational to the project there are still held by the state and could be used to justify another diversion down the line. And climate change looms large over all of them…

PASKUS11: “I think we’re at least getting the idea now that these old style projects are just not going to work for so many reasons.”

TRACK: She says, the lesson here is that many of these proposals rely on 20th century ideas about our relationship to water in the arid West. And that plans will have to change as the region warms.

That was KUNC’s Luke Runyon. This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Colorado River, produced in partnership with KUNC in northern Colorado, with support from the Walton Family Foundation. That’s it for the podcast today, thanks for listening and have a great day.