The state Division of Water Resources received a federal stamp of approval to begin environmental and cultural resource studies for the $1 billion Lake Powell pipeline project.

The latest hurdle cleared by state officials was presented Thursday in an update to the Utah Board of Water Resources.

Eric Millis, division deputy director, said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., accepted the agency's study plans and notified the state in late January.

"It's a big step. We knew we would get there at some point, but we didn't know what kind of kickback," there may have been from any critics, Millis said.

The commission accepted the state's study proposals with a few modifications and so now the process begins of notifying the varied landowners about the parameters of the studies, as well as seeking access.

Millis said he expects the studies to take about a year, after which the agency will draft an environmental assessment on the project's impact and submit it to the commission for another step in the licensing process.

After all those pre-application hoops are cleared, it won't be until 2012 that the agency will receive the all of the necessary licenses and permits for the project.

"It's a long process," Millis said.

The proposed pipeline has its genesis in legislation passed during the 2006 session in which construction of the massive project was authorized, in addition to diversion of certain tax revenues to cover pre-construction costs.

Touted as a way to meet a portion of southwestern Utah's water needs, the pipeline will start at Lake Powell near Glen Canyon Dam and will span 139 miles to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Washington County.

An additional 38 miles of pipeline will be constructed from Washington County to Iron County.

All together, the pipeline will distribute 100,000 acre-feet of water to Kane, Washington, and Iron counties by 2012, and accompanying hydroelectric power plants will generate as much as 363 megawatts of power.

Some critics question if Lake Powell will have enough water to support such a massive pipeline and wonder if the project's price tag can be justified.