McCrystie Adams, ‘The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States’

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As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Monday deadline for comments on the proposed project approaches conservationists have galvanized their opposition to Aaron Million and Wyco Power and Water and the 500 mile pipeline. Western Resource Advocates, on Thursday, labeled it a boondoggle. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The Colorado River Protection Coalition, representing 10 environmental groups, also filed to intervene in the case.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice, the coalition’s lead attorney. “The pipeline would devastate the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harm the Colorado River downstream.”

Communities Protecting the Green River, which includes the cities of Green River and Rock Springs, Wyo. and Sweetwater County, Wyo., filed in opposition to the project earlier this week…

Million has said the pipeline is cost-competitive with other plans to import water and environmentally friendly because it would prevent worse impacts from occurring within Colorado.
The project also has attracted interest from Colorado and Wyoming municipalities, which have launched their own study of the project’s viability. They are awaiting revised water availability studies by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Interbasin Compact Committee, formed by the Colorado Legislature in 2005 to sort out state water issues, at the request of member roundtables, has formed a task force to identify impacts of Flaming Gorge. The task force is being funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, over the objections of the environmental groups, as a model to develop a way to talk about statewide water projects.

Here’s the release from Earthjustice (McCrystie Adams/Gary Wockner/Steve Jones/Taylor McKinnon):

Today a coalition of 10 conservation groups from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona—the Colorado River Protection Coalition—moved to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review of the Regional Watershed Supply Project, more commonly known as the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. FERC is currently evaluating a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline from Wyco Power and Water Inc. FERC allows members of the public with a stake in projects to intervene in preliminary permit proceedings, and the Colorado River Protection Coalition, represented by Earthjustice, has called upon FERC to deny the permit on numerous grounds.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice, the Coalition’s lead attorney. “The Pipeline would devastate the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harm the Colorado River downstream.”

In its intervention comments, the Colorado River Protection Coalition asserted that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline is extremely unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges, and part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area. The Coalition also argued that the permit should be denied because the applicant failed to meet various requirements during a previous attempt at permitting a nearly identical project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Further, the Coalition asserted that the Pipeline is an extremely environmentally damaging water supply project that would irrevocably harm the Green and Colorado Rivers, not a “hydropower project,” and thus FERC is not the appropriate agency to lead federal review of the proposal.

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would severely harm the Wyoming landscape it crosses,” said Steve Jones of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Our state’s heritage, wildlife, and economy are dependent on protecting roadless and wilderness areas.”

“Four endangered fish—the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail chub—are dependent on the water this pipeline proposes to drain out of the Green and Colorado Rivers,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff, Arizona. “The pipeline would spell disaster for those fish and the river ecosystems we and they depend on. It’s a foolish proposal in the face of global warming and projected declines in river flows.”

“The Green River flows through Utah’s largest roadless area, provides 40 percent of the water entering the Colorado River at Lake Powell each year, and supports a world-famous trout fishery averaging 6,000–8,000 fish per mile” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “This catastrophic proposal would not only mar these treasures, it would forever alter life in Utah.”

The applicant previously sought a permit for the Pipeline from a different federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In July of 2011, the Corps terminated its review of the project because the applicant missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the Corps. A few months later, the applicant redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through FERC. Despite the modifications, the project remains a huge energy hog—at least nine air-polluting natural gas-fired pumping stations would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Wyco’s president has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would use more energy than the project would create through hydropower.

“We know this project would burn more energy than it produces,” said John Spahr of the Sierra Club. “Claiming it is a hydropower project is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make an end-run around federal law.”

Since its inception, the extremely controversial Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with great opposition in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Colorado is already a parched state with severely depleted rivers while the majority of the water in Colorado’s cities is used to keep lawns green for three months in the hot, dry summer across sprawling suburban landscapes.

Duane Short of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance noted, “The Coalition believes that Colorado and other western citizens are beginning to realize that unbridled consumption of water from our rivers and aquifers will leave our precious water resources depleted leading to even more severe water shortages for our children and grandchildren. We hope the public will work with us to prevent this shortsighted and irresponsible water grab.”

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be a flaming disaster for Colorado,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “The Pipeline would be a devastating step backwards for water supply policy and river protection in Colorado and the Southwest U.S.—our coalition will work as long and hard as it takes to stop this project.”

This Coalition’s intervention is one of several being filed by public interest groups and local communities. Over a hundred public comments urging FERC to deny the preliminary permit have already been filed before the deadline on Dec. 19th. Comments are posted on FERC’s website. (Search for Docket Number: P-14263.)

View a map of the pipeline’s proposed 550 mile route across Wyoming and down through Colorado.

Read the motion to intervene.

Meanwhile, Governor Matt Mead of Wyoming has submitted his comments on the pipeline. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for Associated Press via The Columbus Republic. From the article:

“This project would cut a vast swath across southern Wyoming, with the potential for huge impacts in many significant sectors of our economy and aspects of critical resources to Wyoming and Colorado,” Mead wrote…

“Although in its proposal a hydroelectricity angle has been attempted, it is important to note that hydroelectric production is a minor purpose of the project,” Mead wrote. “The project first, foremost and always is a water supply project.” Mead stated that it appears Million shifted federal agencies “to short-circuit the regulatory process and/or sidestep fundamental issues.”[…]

Mead stated that Million has not shown how much water Colorado is still entitled to under the Colorado River Compact. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Flaming Gorge Reservoir, is working on a study of how much water, if any, it believes could be available for withdrawal there…

Mead wrote that Wyoming has been involved in efforts to recover endangered fish species on the Upper Colorado River for decades. He said the agency’s review must consider the likely effect on the fish both of the pipeline project as well as Wyoming’s possible future use of its share of water from the Green River. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department filed a separate request with FERC to intervene in the permit application to track the issue…

[Aaron Million] said he agrees federal regulators need to consider water supply issues as well as his project’s likely effect on wildlife and recreation.

More coverage from Amy Joi O’Donoghue writing for the Deseret News. From the article:

Since its inception, the controversial Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with opposition in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Although the project would be privately financed, critics say the end water would be so publicly expensive it wouldn’t be viable. It also smacks at tapping water that river watchers say is already over allocated.

Million has said that the water his project proposes to take from the Green River in Wyoming is sustainable, according to a review of water resources by federal water managers with oversight of Flaming Gorge.

According to a Tweet from Jennifer Petersen (@BCAWY): “Last night [December 14], Laramie Council voted unanimously to oppose the Million pipeline & send in a letter intervening in the FERC permitting process.”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

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