Dateline: Saint George—Enviromental Bullseye

Jan 19, 2021

Red Cliffs in Southern Utah.
Credit Sarah Thomas, Conserve Southwest Utah

Something caught my eye as I climbed to my St. George mailbox. There to the north was a solitary hang glider, swooping near Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. With so much to see and so many mishaps to avoid, I wondered if the glider pilot paid attention to the scorched hillsides.

In July 2020, human-caused fires ravaged 20% of this hiker’s paradise, killing who-knows-how-many Mojave Desert tortoises and other threatened species.

I also wondered about the bigger picture for Red Cliffs, about a proposed east-west highway slicing through rust-colored, supposedly protected mesas, a road to facilitate the growth of homes and businesses.

Red Cliffs is one big ring in southwest Utah’s environmental bull’s-eye. I accept part of the blame for creating the risk. I fled California’s polluted air for St. George in 2018, joining the exodus to this charming community and geographic masterpiece.

The center of the bull’s-eye is 15 miles east of downtown St. George at the boaters’ paradise of Sand Hollow State Park. 

Here is the possible terminus for a 140-mile, multi-billion-dollar pipeline from Lake Powell, tapping the Colorado River to sustain southwest Utah’s growth. The pipeline, sought by Washington County, pits Utahns against each other and against six other states and Mexico.

 Washington County is home to some 20 golf courses and a population expected to grow from 180,000 to more than 500,000 by 2065.

Water use here is more than 300 gallons per person per day at cheap water rates. That usage is dramatically higher and the water rates lower than other southwest cities, including Las Vegas, that have successfully adopted conservation measures to ease an already over-allocated Colorado River.

Critics say there are alternatives to the highway and the pipeline.

I wonder if these big-picture dilemmas could have been illustrated by late environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who temporarily wrapped fabrics around global landmarks and landscapes to give the public a fresh perspective.

I am imagining 140 miles of rippling blue cloth for the pipeline’s route and a highway-sized trail of green-colored tortoise shells. Imagine the unimaginable. Consider saying goodbye to rare critters and geological masterpieces.

If you want to bone up on the highway and the pipeline, one good place is the Conserve Southwest Utah website. Everyone should have skin in this game.