Flaming Gorge pipeline: Parker and the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition

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Here’s an update on Parker’s Rueter-Hess Reservoir — currently under construction — and the water they hope to store there, from Chris Michlewicz writing for the Parker Chronicle. From the article:

District officials have secured water in the South Platte River and Cherry Creek and remain active in pursuing new resources to wean themselves off deep underground aquifers that are being depleted at a mind-numbing pace. New water resources will eventually help fill the 72,000-acre-foot Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which is being built in Newlin Gulch southwest of Parker. It is scheduled to be completed in less than three years, and decision-makers are grappling with the immense task and astronomical cost of piping the water back to Parker…

Instead of throwing money at high-dollar water rights, officials purchased more moderately priced farms near Sterling that came with certain rights to South Platte water. Now the district owns 9,000 acre-feet of consumptive-use water that could be moved back through the water courts. “We’re looking at that water as a relatively inexpensive insurance policy,” Jaeger said. “If everything else goes sideways, that’s our least favorite alternative, but that’s an alternative we own.”

Because of heavy industrial uses along the South Platte, the water must be treated with a costly process called reverse osmosis, which strips the water of all pollutants and minerals. The treated water would then be sent through a pump station and piped back to Parker. It would take several partners to pay for a pipeline, and Parker water would be forced to raise rates or ask customers to approve a major bond issue to fund such an intensive project. If all options were exhausted, customers essentially would not have a choice but to go along with the “last resort” project, Jaeger said…

Parker Water and Sanitation hopes it will never reach a critical stage that would require it to make those tough decisions. Leaders are heading efforts to explore some promising new resources, including a new project that has created a buzz in both Colorado and its neighbor to the north. A coalition of Front Range water entities has opened a dialogue with Wyoming’s top brass to find out how much water is is Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, an expanse of wilderness on the Wyoming-Utah border. Preliminary estimates put Colorado’s portion alone at 165,000 acre-feet…

Water providers, including members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, have high hopes for Flaming Gorge because Wyoming would share the costs to build a pipeline to distribute the water and because the clean resource would not require reverse osmosis. Additionally, there would be no need to establish a massive evaporative pond to remove the brine left by lawn fertilizers and other pollutants in the South Platte. Although Flaming Gorge would require more miles of pipeline, the large number of partners sharing the cost would lower the price tag for end users, or customers. One considerable obstacle for Flaming Gorge is the need for local, state and federal dollars to back the project. However, a tentative cooperative agreement is already in place to conduct due diligence in determining the possible benefits to both states. Agreements are in draft form, and the Parker water district is a founding member of the Colorado-Wyoming Water Coalition. A meeting with representatives from Wyoming’s western slope in late April went “better than expected,” Jaeger said…

Parker water approached Wyoming’s leadership, including the division of natural resources, with a suggestion that the water authorities and conservation districts dictate where the water ends up instead of allowing private companies and speculators to get there first and set a price. Depending on how much Parker would get from the deal, water from the multi-billion dollar project could essentially become an infinite resource for Parker because the water can be reclaimed at the district’s water treatment plants, which remove waste and other pollutants before the water is dumped back into Cherry Creek, as required by the Endangered Species Act. A study showed that Parker needs roughly 31,000 acre-feet of water to sustain all homes and businesses at full build-out, Jaeger said. The Statewide Water Initiative Study from 2007 identified a need for 600,000 acre-feet of water for long term municipal and industrial uses across Colorado.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

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