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ST. GEORGE — Negotiations between state and federal officials began Monday at the Dixie Center St. George looking to give Utah access to water from Lake Powell in exchange for some of its existing access to Colorado River water via the Green River in Wyoming.
The purpose of the exchange is to allow Utah the ability to draw water directly from Lake Powell for the Lake Powell Pipeline rather than drawing it from the Green River below the Flaming Gorge Dam.
Utah already holds water rights to Colorado River water under the Colorado River Compact, specifically to 23 percent of the available water supply in the upper basin, Karry Rathje, spokeswoman for the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said. This equates to a yield of approximately 1.4 million acre-feet annually.
The proposed exchange has to do with the use of federal water facilities, Glen Canyon Dam rather than Flaming Gorge Dam, necessary to drawing the water.
“The state is proposing forbearing its use up on the Green River and its tributaries and allowing that water to flow down to Lake Powell where the state would pull it out for the Lake Powell Pipeline once that’s done,” said Marlon Duke, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Salt Lake City office.
Representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Utah Division of Water Resources and Washington County Water Conservancy District were gathered at the Dixie Center for the first of a series of meetings focused on hashing out what they called a water exchange contract. Additional meetings are slated to to be held in Salt Lake City.
“This negotiation is where we’ll sit down and talk about the details of what that exchange would look like,” Duke said.
Utah currently maintains rights to use nearly 159,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River under the Colorado River Compact, water that is not currently being utilized. The proposed contract would allow Utah to instead draw 86,249 acre-feet of that allotment from Lake Powell — which has the capacity to store 26.2 million acre-feet of water released through Glen Canyon Dam — for the proposed pipeline.
“With Glen Canyon Dam, we have the benefit of Lake Powell water always being there,” Rathje said, “and in addition we have the benefit of the lake water levels higher than the pumping from the river.”
Basically the state is negotiating with the Bureau of Reclamation to allow it to draw water it already has rights to at a new location. It is not a transfer or purchase of water rights.
Water released through the Flaming Gorge Dam flows into the Green River, down 400 miles of the Colorado River before reaching Lake Powell.
While supplying water for the pipeline, releasing the water also has an environmental benefit to it, said Ron Thompson, general manager of Washington County Water Conservancy District.
“(That) will augment flows that come down the river …,” Thompson said, “which is tremendously beneficial to hundreds of miles of native fish population habitat, some of which are endangered.”