Don’t Get Me Started: Looks Like Water, Tastes Like Pork

Lake Powell Pipeline is not about population growth.

My mother told me the best desert pipeline joke I’ve ever heard. I’m changing it only slightly for the 21st century.

Three nuns stand before St. Peter. Looking up from his iPad, he praises them for their selfless work on behalf of others and offers each of them the chance to each be their heroine for a day. 

The first one eagerly volunteers that she would like to be Joan of Arc. 

St. Peter throws her a surprised glance, then waves his iWand and the sister is whisked away in a burst of flame.

He turns to the second, who stammers that she would like to be Madonna, not ‘The Madonna,’’ but rather the pop star.

A roll of his eyes, a wave of his iWand and the second sister is gone in a shower of glitter.

The third sister takes her off glasses and shyly, but earnestly, says that she would like to be Sarah Pippillini.

Sarah Pippillini? St. Peter repeats into his iHeadset, is that right sister?

She eagerly nods her head as St. Peter eyes his iPad. “I’m sorry, sister, we have no records of a Sarah Pippillini, can you tell me where you heard of this Ms. Pippilini?

Yes father, I read about her this morning, just before I died.

St. Peter pulls up the front page of the paper and reads the headline: “Sahara Pipeline Laid by 300 Arabs in 24 Hours.”

The Lake Powell Pipeline is no joke, but to alleviate the gloomy prospect of the citizens of Utah paying for an enormous boondoggle, I have recast a pipeline joke my mother told me. It’s too long for print but it is available in the online version of CATALYST. 

I hate to sound like a broken record—having given you words of wisdom on the Lake Powell Pipeline two months ago—but that steamroller is about to leave the station. The State Water Issues Task Force—read Friends of the Lake Powell Pipeline—has recommended that Utah spend 15% of any increase in sales tax revenue to fund water projects across the state. Similar to the 30% of sales tax growth Utah’s legislature allocated to highway projects last general session, over the governor’s veto: The legislature could have raised gasoline taxes to the point where they could pay for road projects. But that wouldn’t have the added benefit of shortchanging government programs that Republicans hate, without actually having to oppose them before their constituents.

This, however, is a whole ’nuther story.

Friends of the Lake Powell Pipeline have two main arguments for building the $1.2 billion pipeline. The first is always preceded by a graph of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget’s projected population growth in the St. George area, which show the population soaring from the current 130,000 to 800,000 in 2060, and followed by the astute observation that every one of us drinks water from municipal water systems that visionaries had the courage to build.

Never mind that most of the water systems across the state started with handcarts or Dodge Neons and worked their way up to Civics or Priusi. None of those water districts went out and signed all their neighbors as cosigners on a $1.2 billion loan to buy an Armani Edition Hummer. Okay, the Central Utah Project fiasco sucked down a couple of billion dollars at a federal teat party before the arrival of the Tea party, but that’s another story.

The second argument for building a pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George comes down to an aversion to crying over spilled milk. Our legislators are loath to see part of Utah’s share of Colorado River water allotment escape downstream to 

other members of the Colorado Compact. The problem with this argument is that the allocation of the waters of the Colorado River basin was based on wildly optimistic numbers. Short of major climate change, we’ll never see the likes of full allocation. We could very well end up building a $1.2 billion, 139-mile straw to a dry teat.

The Lake Powell Pipeline has several things going for it. First, the Governor’s office and Utah’s congressional delegation apparently have a ‘quid pro no quote’ agreement with the Nevada governor’s office and congressional delegation: “You don’t say anything bad about our asinine water project (dewatering eastern Nevada and much of western Utah so that pirates can pillage villages in Las Vegas) and we won’t say anything bad about your asinine water project.”

Another asset is Mike Noel. The guy is a genius at getting taxpayers to spend money in his district. In November he celebrated the opening of a 180-bed prison facility south of Kanab that was built with $8 million of Department of Agricul­ture stimulus money. I have no idea what the Depart­ment of Agriculture is doing building prisons, but Kane County can now lock up one out of every 35 of its residents. This is the same Mike Noel who is trying to build a couple of nuclear power plants in Green River. 

No one on Capitol Hill seems to be able to connect the dots. Right after the Friends of the Lake Powell Pipeline made their presentation last month, which included figures showing how much of the water in the St. George area is allocated to agriculture, Lt. Governor Bell gave a presentation showing how much agricultural land across the state will be consumed by urban growth in the future. In particular, how agriculture in the St. George area will shrink to the size of a couple of golf courses. If any of the committee members figured out that all the water currently allocated to agriculture was sufficient to serve all that projected growth, they were keeping it under their hats. 

Which may be a clue to what this is really about: pork. Now that the federal pork barrel has been downsized, those who make a living off of federal tax dollars have shifted their sights to state-funded pork barrel projects.

Governor Herbert has voiced his opposition to earmarking 15% of sales tax growth, but he is go­ing to need our help convincing the legislature. 

John deJong  is the associate publisher of CATALYST.