U.S. Water News Online
SALT LAKE CITY -- At the direction of the Legislature and Gov. Mike Leavitt, state officials are studying the feasibility of leasing a portion of Utah's Colorado River water to thirsty states such as Arizona and California.
Utah's share of undeveloped Colorado River water has been estimated at approximately 110,000 acre feet annually over the next 50 years. That's about 8 percent of the state's annual share of 1.4 million acre feet.
Of course, there are no guarantees the state will not need that excess water.
"That's why we are looking at leasing the water, not marketing it," said Larry Anderson, director of the state Division of Water Resources. "There will come a time when we will need that water."
Leasing the water may be a temporary solution to making use of this unused portion of the state's allocation, but just how much that water is presently worth is anyone's guess. Developed water delivered to users sells for $400 to $800 an acre foot.
Anderson said questions remain as to whether downstream states would pay for undeveloped water they get for free now, or if buyers would be willing to invest in the dams, pipelines, and other facilities needed to deliver 110,000 acre feet.
The downstream states of California, Arizona, and Nevada are guaranteed a minimum of 7.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water. Anderson said those states could be pressured to negotiate a deal only if Utah planned to develop and use its unused portion.
"The agreement with downstream states could be a kind of forebearance whereby the state agrees not to pursue certain water development projects ffor th next 50 or 100 years and agrees to continue to let that water go downstream," Anderson said.
An agreement among other upper basin states and various Indian tribes with water rights to bank shares of unused water and lease it to downstream states is another marketing possibility.
Utah uses about 857,000 acre feet of Colorado River water a year, with 512,000 acre feet going downstream unused. Anderson told the Legislature's Energy and Natural Resources committee that long-range water plans project an increase in the state's use of Colorado River water by almost 50 percent.
Among the developments that would utilize Colorado River water over the next 50 years are a proposed pipeline from Lake Powell in the St. George area, oil and gas development in northeastern Utah, completion of the Central Utah Project, and expansion of Utah power plants.
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