Flaming Gorge pipeline update

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Chris Woodka (The Pueblo Chieftain) caught up with Aaron Million yesterday at the Colorado Water Congress’ 52nd Annual Convention. From the article:

“Ag water brought into the ag sector will be priced at what they can afford, and it may be one-tenth or one-twentieth of what the municipalities pay,” Million said Thursday. “I personally know the price structure of agricultural water from running cattle on a 6,000-acre ranch. There are a myriad of ways to help agriculture with this project.”[…]

Many on the list of 15 users seeking up to 300,000 acre-feet were irrigation districts, prompting comments by some who read stories in The Pueblo Chieftain to question how they could afford $15,000 an acre-foot for water.

Environmental groups doubted claims that the project would help the environment. “Front Range communities should first consider simpler, less costly measures to meet our region’s water needs, such as conservation, aquifer recharge and leasing. What’s needed most is comprehensive regional water planning, not pie-in-the-sky schemes,” Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited wrote in a published letter to The Chieftain.

Others questioned the amount of water in some of the requests. “What’s Robert Norris going to do with 20,000 acre-feet of water?” one reader wrote. “Just say we’ll run more mother cows and it will help cool us off in the branding pen,” joked Million, who is close friends with the Norris family and would like to build a reservoir on their El Paso County ranch as part of the project.

On a more serious note, Million said he realizes there is a need for water in El Paso County — one of the listed end users was Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District. However, the El Paso County Water Authority wants more time to study how Million’s project would integrate with other plans. “Frankly, I’m hoping to get more water over the hump into the Arkansas basin,” Million said.

There is some interest in large municipal requests, notably Douglas County’s letter indicating the need for 40,000 acre-feet. The majority of larger requests, however, were from water districts in the South Platte River basin…

Million has always promoted the project as having explicit environmental and agricultural benefits, which he said would be ensured by legal mechanisms like conservation easements. “We can write the contracts so we have command and control,” Million said. “If there’s entities out there whining that we have a benevolent streak, they need to back off. The water would stay in agriculture in perpetuity.”[…]

No pricing structure has been finalized, but Million has agreed to a cost-plus arrangement some municipalities asked for.

Million has applied for appropriation of the water in Wyoming, but could also take water through a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation if the project is approved. The contract would have an added benefit of $27 million to the Upper Colorado River fish recovery program. A model of Green River operations by the Bureau of Reclamation showed that at least 165,000 acre-feet could be taken out at Flaming Gorge without harming habitat downstream, Million said. ”There is existing infrastructure through a huge artificial reservoir that has collapsed the environmental issues,” Million said. “I think if you can utilize that structure to benefit water users in both Wyoming and Colorado, then you should.”

More Flaming Gorge coverage here and here.

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