Flaming Gorge Task Force to be formed to study feasibility of bringing water from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The task force does not mean the state will endorse the project, or determine which of two competing plans would move ahead.

A committee met Wednesday to determine if the state has a role in simply considering the project. Although members were divided about whether the project is needed, they agreed a task force would sort out issues. “Something’s going to happen to bring more water to Colorado,” said Betty Konarski, a former Monument mayor who is representing El Paso County water users. “It’s either going to happen to you or you’re going to be part of the conversation.”

The group decided to ask the state’s nine basin roundtables, formed in 2005 to feed into the Interbasin Compact Committee, to select representatives to a task force to get grass-roots input. The committee would provide recommendations to the IBCC and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The committee also would include environmental and recreation representatives and some state water officials…

Many West Slope interests and environmental groups oppose the project because it could diminish Colorado’s allotment of water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. “We think it’s premature to talk about a big new diversion,” said Dan Birch, representing the Colorado River District…

Consultants recommended the task force start with looking at interest within Colorado for the project in the first phase. In a second phase, the task force would look at threshold issues of hydrology, legality or financing that would be barriers to the project. Finally, in the third phase, questions of design and mitigation, as well as comparison to other projects would be addressed.

The task force would apparently be free to determine its own agenda, however. A grant to fund the task force will be requested next month, and roundtables will begin considering whether to participate.

More coverage from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the article:

The yet-to-be-named task force likely would meet for the first time late in the fall, said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Any development of a significant project like this is going to take dialogue,” he said. “This is the first step for that dialogue to take place.”[…]

The idea of the task force is to answer one question: Does the state resolve the environmental problems with a Flaming Gorge pipeline and its conflicts with Western Slope water interests in a public deliberation process, or should the Army Corps of Engineers or other federal agency answer those questions in an environmental assessment of the project? said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University…

[Aaron] Million was invited to the meeting, but did not attend. He could not be reached for comment. Waskom said it was probably a smart strategy on Million’s part to avoid the meeting to avoid being a lightning rod.

At the meeting, Western Slope water interests said they are concerned that a Flaming Gorge pipeline may not be legal and it could deplete however much water is available in the Colorado River Basin to be used for agriculture and urban growth. “This task force feels like the beginning of a big push for a big trans-Continental Divide diversion to happen,” said Rio Blanco County Commissioner Kai Turner.

“A project proponent can’t go out there in this day and age, identify a project and just go do it,” said Dan Birch of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which opposes Million’s project. He added that the decision process about such a pipeline needs to involve water interests from across Colorado…

“Million’s pipeline is a big, bad idea and a huge distraction for the state,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “Instead of pouring precious time and resources into studying this pipedream, Colorado should focus on the many pragmatic, cost-effective and truly collaborative ideas closer to home that could meet future water needs while protecting our environment.”

From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

In making the decision Wednesday, Colorado water officials said the group could help sort out issues and concerns. The task force wouldn’t necessarily endorse any project and would include representatives of environmental, recreation and agricultural interests.

Some conservationists and Western Slope water officials had questioned forming a task force when it’s not clear how much water is available under multistate compacts to divert.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

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