Flaming Gorge pipeline: Colorado-Wyoming Coalition makes it official becoming the Colorado-Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project

Proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline

It’s official now. Aaron Million and the Million Resources Conservation Group now have another obstacle to overcome in their quest to move water from the Green River Basin to the South Platte Basin and Arkansas Basin. Frank Jaeger (Parker Water and Sanitation) and several Front Range and Wyoming water providers have announced a study aimed at determining the feasibility of building the same pipeline with public dough and public partners. When Million first heard about Jaeger’s plans some time around the Colorado Water Congress’ convention in 2009 he told The Pueblo Chieftain’s Chris Woodka, “Let’s be clear: They’re trying to steal the project. I don’t understand the deal. They’re supposed to be men of honor. They should act as such.” Here’s a report about yesterday’s announcement from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

Each utility in the coalition will contribute $20,000 to a feasibility study for a massive municipal water pipeline project called the Colorado-Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project, which would pipe water for 532,000 people from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range. The coalition of utilities includes the town of Castle Rock, the Donala Water-Sanitation District in Colorado Springs, Parker Water and Sanitation District, the South Metro Water Supply Authority and Douglas County in Colorado and Laramie County, Wyo., and the Wyoming cities of Cheyenne, Torrington and Rawlins.

The project may mirror Million’s proposed 500-mile long pipeline, which would take about 250,000 acre feet of water from the Green River above Flaming Gorge Reservoir, pipe it over the Continental Divide along Interstate 80 and deliver it to thirsty Front Range water providers, mostly agricultural. The difference is that Million’s project is private and concerns only Colorado water organizations, while the Colorado-Wyoming project has the cooperation of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and would serve only municipal water utilities in two states.

Parker Water District Manager Frank Jaeger said in a statement that Million’s proposed pipeline does not meet a federal requirement calling for Million to specify the recipients of the project’s water. Jaeger said letters of interest from various utilities throughout the Front Range lack commitment. “Given (Million’s) project cost, it is our belief that a massive subsidy from municipal users would be necessary to pay for the water,” Jaeger wrote. He said it’s bad public policy for Colorado to support Million’s project because it allocates limited Colorado River Basin water for agriculture without meeting the water needs of cities…

The utilities have “no preconceived notion” about the feasibility of a Flaming Gorge pipeline going into the two-year study, which will show how much water the interested cities and counties need in the future, how water would be piped from Flaming Gorge and how much the project might cost, said Bruce Lytle, one of the consultants working on the study…

At a news conference Thursday at the Capitol, the announcement was met with enthusiastic support from several state lawmakers, including Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton; Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Douglas County; Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker; and Rep. Su Riden, D-Aurora.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“This would develop the compact rights of two states. Those Colorado River rights have not been developed much for municipal and industrial uses,” said Frank Jaeger, Parker Water and Sanitation District manager at a press conference at the state Capitol Thursday. “This is the first move of the group to see how we develop the water for two states.”[…]

The Colorado users are almost entirely dependent on water from the Denver Basin aquifers which have been depleted as Front Range communities have grown. They are looking at new sources of water, including buying agricultural water rights in the Arkansas River Basin. For example, Donala last year purchased a Lake County ranch for the water rights, and the South Metro district included a possible pipeline from the Arkansas basin in its long-range water supply plan. “We are looking at the project and other alternatives,” said Rod Kuharich, manager of the South Metro District, which encompasses 14 water providers serving 300,000 people. Of the coalition, he said: “This is an unprecedented level of cooperation.”

Wyoming has looked at developing water from the Green River Basin since the 1970s. Bringing water to the eastern part of the state would address water quality and supply issues. It also would alleviate pressure on the state from Nebraska under a North Platte River compact with Nebraska, said Torrington Mayor Leroy Schafer…

The pipeline concept is similar to Aaron Million’s plan, announced in 2006, and now being evaluated as the Regional Water Supply Project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Million proposes a 560-mile pipeline that he says could be developed for about $3 billion. Last year, he accused Jaeger of trying to “steal” the project. Although Million and Jaeger tell the story differently, it nearly came to blows outside a meeting last year — Million says he was threatened, while Jaeger claims he was provoked. Jaeger brushed aside a question from the media Thursday about whether the coalition’s project is in competition with Million’s plan. “I don’t like to hear ‘competition,’ ’’ Jaeger said. “We are end users with a need for the water. . . . How’s he going to build it without end users?”[…]

The coalition’s plan could differ in details from Million’s, said Bruce Lytle, president of Lytle Water Solutions, the lead consultant. “This is the first phase. We don’t know the size, type of structures or feasibility,” Lytle said. “We’re talking to member agencies to understand what their needs are.” The project will be developed with the Bureau of Reclamation to address needs for the environment and power at Flaming Gorge. It would look at exporting variable amounts of water, more in wet years, less in dry, Lytle said. The project could use three existing reservoirs on the North Platte River, new off-channel storage in the South Platte and existing structures like Parker’s Rueter-Hess Reservoir, a 75,000 acre-foot vessel just beginning to fill and designed to accommodate new water brought into the South Platte Basin. “The ultimate purpose of the feasibility study is to provide enough information to providers so they know how much it costs,” Lytle said, noting that work will begin immediately and will take 18-24 months to complete…

While Million has spent the last four years pitching his project around the state, major water suppliers have been cautious about supporting it. Earlier this month, the Arkansas and Metro basin roundtables agreed to ask the Colorado Water Conservation Board for funding to study setting up a task force proposed by the Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority to look at both projects. At its meeting last week, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District agreed with that approach, rather than endorsing either project.

More coverage from the Associated Press (Ben Neary) via the Laramie Boomerang. From the article:

The project, if it goes forward, would require permission from Congress, but participants don’t believe they would have to renegotiate the Colorado River Compact, which allocates the river among Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Although it would be drawn from Wyoming, the water would come from Colorado’s allocated share of water in the Colorado River system. “The state of Colorado’s own State Water Supply Initiative clearly says that even with all the water projects currently in the pipeline, the Front Range and Platte River Basin will face significant water shortages in just a few decades,” said Frank Jaeger, general manager of Parker Water and Sanitation District, who organized the coalition.

Leroy J. Schafer, mayor of Torrington, Wyo., and a member of the coalition, said the project faces opposition from other Wyoming communities like Rock Springs and Green River that depend on the Colorado River Compact to ensure they get the water they need, but he believes they will support the project if it can be shown that it will allow them to use more water in drought years…

Jaeger said last year his district was meeting with entities in Colorado and Wyoming trying to start a similar, competing project to Million’s proposal. Jaeger said he believed that such a large project should be built by the public and he was concerned about the possibility of water speculation…

Participants and their projected water needs include the Parker Water and Sanitation District, 125,000 people; Castle Rock, 85,000; the South Metro Water Supply Authority, 190,000; Douglas County, 45,000; the Donala Water and Sanitation District, 7,000; Cheyenne, Wyo., 55,000; Torrington, 5,000; and Laramie County, 20,000.

More coverage from The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

The idea could affect the whole Western Slope because it would use water from Colorado’s share of the Colorado River Compact…

Western Colorado water officials have been skeptical about the Flaming Gorge plan, because it would use water from Colorado’s share of the seven-state Colorado River Compact. Jaeger said there’s nothing wrong with studying the option. “The Colorado River Compact was set up to develop water for the entire state of Colorado and the entire state of Wyoming, so I don’t think we’re out of bounds in investigating it,” Jaeger said…

No one can agree how much water is left to Colorado under the compact. In the worst-case estimates of long-term droughts or a warmer climate, Colorado already is using all of the water it legally owns. The state government is working on a model to get a better answer to the question. Leaders at the Western Slope’s largest water district have no problem with Front Range utilities doing a study, but they hope it takes into account climate change and drought, said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It doesn’t matter who’s looking at the project, the same issues stand. We need to get further into the Colorado River Water Availability Study to see how much water is left to develop,” Pokrandt said.

More Colorado Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project coverage here. More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

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