Flaming Gorge pipeline: Who are the customers?

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Aaron Million has lined up many potential customers for the water he hopes to move via the Flaming Gorge Pipeline (Regional Water Supply Project). Skeptics feel that the Corps of Engineers is putting the cart before the horse and that the project is “speculative” which of course is not allowed under Colorado water law. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for the Associated Press via Forbes. From the article:

Critics say it’s impossible to evaluate the project without knowing who the end users are. And if Million has reached any firm deals to supply water, he’s not saying…

Million says the pipeline could carry up to 250,000 acre feet of water a year. That’s more than Denver Water supplies annually to the metro Denver area…

“We’ve spent the last three years with one of the best water teams in the U.S. looking for snake bites, or fatal flaws, and we have found none,” Million said, emphasizing he’s not interested in building any project that’s not environmentally sound. Rena Brand, project manager for the Corps of Engineers in Littleton, Colo., said Million’s application for a permit to draw water triggered her agency’s decision to proceed with the detailed environmental study. She said the Corps has retained a consultant to do the work and that Million will cover the cost. Brand said the study could take up to five years. She said it will evolve to include issues such as how delivering the water to particular areas might affect them. “The Corps is not making any preliminary decisions about this project,” Brand said. Brand said it’s unusual for a private party to undertake such a large water project. Her agency used to do such projects itself in years past, but “not so much anymore,” she said.

Million doesn’t propose to pay for the water he plans to move. Rather, he’s relying on Colorado’s rights to the water under the Colorado River compacts – agreements among western states that spell out how to manage the river and its tributaries, including the Green River. Colorado law generally allows anyone to take unappropriated water and put it to use in the state. The river compacts, meanwhile, allow water to be diverted in one state and used in another. Alexandra L. Davis, assistant director for water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said that all water in the state belongs to the state. She said people can get a vested right to the water as long as they continue to put it to use. “It would be Mr. Million’s water right that he would then sell the use of that to other end users,” Davis said…

Environmentalists say they see problems with such a massive trans-basin water diversion. They say piping water across the Continental Divide threatens to harm fish and riparian species in the Colorado River system…

Some in Colorado bristle, too, at the prospect of seeing a private entity control such a huge volume of water. Frank Jaeger, district manager with the Parker Water and Sanitation District, said his district, which serves about 45,000 people, was unable to get Million to spell out clearly what his water prices and terms of delivery would be. Jaeger said his district is meeting with entities in Colorado and Wyoming trying to start a similar, competing project. “What we’re looking at is a project of what actual cost of development and delivery (would be), no profit involved,” Jaeger said of the prospect of getting government entities to build a pipeline. “A public project of that magnitude is a much better way of going about it.” Jaeger questioned how the Corps of Engineers can prepare a meaningful environmental impact statement evaluating Million’s project without knowing where the water would go. “I’m very fixated on the issue of speculation,” Jaeger said. “With no end users and no description of how the water will be used, I’ve got a problem with the Corps even dealing with that. Why the hell they’re doing an EIS is even beyond me.”

Million said his company has a “protectable interest” in the pipeline idea, meaning that no one else has a right to build one.He declined to say whether his company, Million Conservation Resource Group, has reached any deals to supply water.

Gov. Freudenthal, meanwhile, said he’s not enthusiastic about the pipeline project. “I’m not a big fan of it, in part because I’ve never been a big fan of trans-basin diversions,” Freudenthal said. “However, they properly filed with the state engineer,” Freudenthal said. “Their argument obviously is that this is Colorado’s water. The compact appears to allow for this, so I guess I’d have to say that at this stage I’ve been skeptically watching it unfold.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

2 thoughts on “Flaming Gorge pipeline: Who are the customers?

  1. Mr. Million has no customers and therefore cannot show purpose and need for the water he intends to control, no doubt charging those who ultimately use the water a monopoly profit on top of the terrific cost. No body of well-minded community leaders would ever sign up for such a thing and many of them are already pursuing this project by going around the likes of Aaron Million and working through the proper channels to ensure that public resources are kept in public control and subject to public accountability.

    • Richard,

      A lot of South Metro districts are pretty interested in the concept but are wary of the costs, and the non-public control. One provider told me the other day in email, “I have not paid much attention [to Million’s project] since I heard the words ‘local prevailing prices’ during his presentation to the Water Workshop in Gunnison two years ago. When I heard those words leave his lips, I thought, ‘Oops, deal breaker.'”

      I plan to ask Million about the “speculation” aspects of the project and what he thinks his chances are of getting access to most of the water left for Colorado to develop in the Colorado River Basin next week at West High School in Denver.

      Isn’t it great fun to follow Colorado water issues? 🙂

      John Orr

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