Snowpack news: Dry east and west of the Great Divide, statewide snowpack 76% of average

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Nearly two months into water year 2012 the snowpack is well below average across the state. We’re still in the time of year where one good dumping can make a big difference but the long range forecast does not bode well. Click on the thumbnail graphics to the right for the current snowpack map from the NRCS and the latest precipitation map from the Colorado Climate Center.

Deadline for Comments on Flaming Gorge Pipeline Closes with One Positive Note out of More Than 5,000 Objections

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Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

If official public support for the ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) is any indication of its future potential, the project to pump water from Wyoming to Colorado won’t become a reality any time soon. Public comments and objections regarding the FGP were due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by Monday, Dec. 19, and out of more than 5,000 submissions, only 1 (one) was supportive of the idea.

“The question here is obvious: If virtually nobody took the time to argue here that the pipeline is a good idea, why is any federal agency even considering a permit for this proposal?” said Western Resource Advocates Water Attorney Robert Harris. “Finding a supporter in the FERC filings is about as difficult as getting a perfect score on your SATs.”

Aaron Million, President of Wyco Power and Water, Inc., is seeking a federal permit from FERC to review his FGP proposal to pump water more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado. More than 5,000 comments from citizens, governments and non-profit organizations were formally submitted to FERC by Dec. 19, and only 1 comment – from a private citizen in Casper, WY – was supportive of the proposal. That comment represents roughly the same odds (.0002%) as an American high school student getting a perfect score on the SAT test.

Western Resource Advocates (WRA) submitted formal objections last week along with the Colorado Environmental Coalition and the National Parks Conservation Association. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead formally objected to the proposal, saying: “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.”

Additional objections included those from:

– City of Rock Springs, WY
– City of Green River, WY
– Sweetwater County, WY
– Wyoming Game and Fish Department
– Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, CO
– City of Colorado Springs, CO
– City of Ft. Collins, CO
– Daggett County, UT
– Utah Rivers Council
– Colorado River District
– Colorado River Outfitters Association

Public comments and ‘Motions to Intervene’ can be found at: http://elibrary.ferc.gov (docket # P-14263).

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
On September 1, 2011, Mr. Aaron Million of Wyco Power and Water, Inc. applied to FERC for a permit application for the Regional Watershed Supply Project proposal (generally referred to as the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, or FGP). Two months earlier, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers terminated its review of the project, citing Million’s failure to meet required deadlines to provide information. Wyco applied to FERC under the premise of reclassifying the FGP as a hydropower project, but because it is primarily a water-delivery system, FERC only has limited jurisdiction and cannot approve the entire project.

The FERC deadline for public comments and ‘Motions to Intervene’ is December 19, 2011. If FERC eventually decides to consider permitting for the FGP, it would begin a 3-year study period of the project. Before the FGP could begin to be constructed, Wyco would almost certainly need a permit from multiple additional federal agencies, such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. At some point, Wyco would also likely need to resubmit an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For More Information on the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, go to:
http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/water/pipeline/million.php

To access FERC Submissions/Filings directly, go to:
http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20111013-5035

A footnote from the release reads: “The Center for Biological Diversity submitted 3,388 individual public comments, and Earthjustice submitted 1,706 public comments”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Restoration: Crystal River tributary, Coal Creek, is on the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s radar

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy hopes to launch a multi-agency effort to clean up Coal Creek, a tributary of the Crystal River, with a grant from the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund to get things started.

The board that oversees the fund has recommended spending $48,269 from county tax revenues devoted to water quantity and quality in the Roaring Fork River watershed; the expenditure is on the county commissioners’ agenda today.

In part, the funds will go toward analysis of existing water-quality data for Coal Creek, which tumbles out of Coal Basin west of Redstone, and a technical workshop in the spring that draws together experts to review the data and discuss options to clean up a creek that regularly dumps large quantities of sediment into the Crystal River. The Crystal in turn flows north to Carbondale, where it joins the Roaring Fork.

“Basically, nine times out of 10, if the Crystal is that ashy color, it’s Coal Creek that’s putting it in there,” said Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Coal Creek flows through a basin still healing from years of mining for high-grade coal.

More Crystal River watershed coverage here and here.

The Commerce City council delays vote on moratorium for hydraulic fracturing for thirty days

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From The Denver Post:

Instead of considering an emergency ordinance, which would have kicked in immediately, the council passed a regular ordinance on first reading. The final reading will come in 30 days.
Commerce City spokeswoman Michelle Halstead said the timeout will allow the city to get input from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as well as from industry representatives before the council decides what to do longterm. “We look forward to working with all interested parties to provide thoughtful discussion and increase awareness and education on this important topic,” Councilman Dominick Moreno said in a written statement.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline: Mesa County Commissioners vote to oppose the project, Wyoming Game and Fish files motion to intervene with FERC

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From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Mesa County commissioners in Colorado have joined those opposing a proposal to build a pipeline to carry water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado…

Mesa County commissioners voted 2-0 Monday, with a third commissioner out sick, to oppose the idea. The Daily Sentinel reports commissioners said the idea is ill-conceived, expensive, and could cause Colorado to use more water than it has been allocated under a multistate compact divvying up water in the Colorado River system.

Meanwhile, here’s a release Wyoming Governor Matt Mead outlining his opposition to the pipeline. Thanks to Sagebrush Sam’s (@SagebrushSam) Twitter feed for the link:

Governor Matt Mead sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today. That letter expresses the Governor’s deep concern about the proposed water pipeline from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range. Governor Mead’s comments are meant to protect Wyoming’s economy and resources and show the project is not feasible.

“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,” Governor Mead wrote. He added, “The proponent has stated this project will cost $3 billion to construct but little is known about the future cost to consumers or others from such a massive project.”

FERC is considering a preliminary permit for this project, which is now billed as a hydroelectric endeavor. It had been before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until the Corps withdrew the application earlier this year. The project applicant then took it to FERC. Governor Mead expressed concern that FERC is not the correct entity to review this proposal, “The proponent has, by all appearances, shifted federal permitting venues to short-circuit the regulatory process and/or sidestep fundamental issues. I do not believe FERC should be the lead or initial permitting agency for this project.”

In terms of Wyoming’s water rights, Governor Mead wrote that the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact must be given full consideration because no project can disrupt Wyoming’s potential to develop its remaining appropriation under that Compact. While most of the water for this project would supposedly come from whatever Colorado’s unused portion of the compact is Governor Mead noted, “The applicant is proposing use of 25,000 acre feet of water per year from Wyoming’s undeveloped allocation under the Compact, and Wyoming has not agreed to this allocation.”

Governor Mead also raised concerns about the impact on recreation opportunities in the Flaming Gorge and the Green River as well as impacts on endangered species recovery programs in the Green and Colorado Rivers.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department has also filed a notice of intervention with FERC.

More coverage from Jake Nichols writing for the JH Weekly. From the article:

“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.”

Wyoming Game and Fish Department, along with a host of environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Utah Rivers Council have joined Mead in urging that FERC deny Million’s application.

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

[John] Stokes, director of the Fort Collins Department of Natural Resources, said entrepreneur Aaron Million’s Regional Watershed Supply Project, also known as the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, would be “highly detrimental” to the 22,000-acre Soapstone Prairie and nearby 26,500-acre Meadow Spring Ranch. Both are located near the Wyoming border.

Million, however, believes his own proposal showing the pipeline threading through those lands is a mistake which will be corrected.

In a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which is permitting the pipeline, Stokes wrote last week that Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water, plans to construct the pipeline, hydroelectric power facilities and major electric transmission lines across Soapstone Prairie and Meadow Spring Ranch…

…FERC received about 200 comments or motions to intervene in the pipeline permitting process.

Of those, few supported the project, and the most vehement objections came from cities along the pipeline corridor, environmentalists and federal and local government agencies warning that the pipeline would have a tremendous impact on the Colorado and Green rivers, endangered species, national forests and natural areas such as Soapstone Prairie.

“The magnitude of disturbance from installing an underground pipeline and transmission lines across several miles of SPNA and MSR would be great, both in the short term and longer term,” Stokes said…

On Monday, Million said the map in the proposal submitted to FERC showing the pipeline routed through Soapstone Prairie and Meadow Springs Ranch was an error. “That’s an artifact of GIS,” he said. “We have no intention of going through the natural area. John (Stokes) asked it to be moved, and I said I would.”[…]

Robert Stewart, an environmental officer for the U.S. Department of Interior, urged officials to determine if climate change will reduce the water flow in the Green River before the pipeline is built. He added that water diversions out of the Colorado River Basin, of which the Green River is a part, have altered the flow downstream, and water diversions for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline could further harm four endangered fish species in the Colorado River…

In his letter of opposition, Green River, Wyo., Mayor Hank Castillon joined a chorus of Wyoming counties and towns objecting to the project, because, he said, “the Regional Watershed Supply Project will profoundly and negatively affect every citizen and business in this community.”

Other major organizations objecting to the pipeline include the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District of Steamboat Springs, the Colorado River Outfitters Association, the Wyoming-based Coalition of Local Governments, several counties in Utah and Wyoming and a host of environmental groups, including Trout Unlimited, Save the Poudre, the Sierra Club and others.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

San Miguel River: CWCB instream flow right filing prompts Montrose County to make a defensive water rights filing on the river

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From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

To protect future growth, Montrose County needs to secure water rights against an instream flow claim on a 17.4-mile stretch of the San Miguel River, officials say…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board determined it’s in the state’s interest to file for the instream flow. Its study determined there is enough water for appropriation on the river between the Calamity Draw Confluence, a few miles west of Nucla, and the confluence of the Dolores River to “preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree without limiting or foreclosing the exercise of valid, existing water rights.”

The county is not so certain of that, at least, not when it comes to future needs.

Montrose County was able to file in December 2010 for rights ahead of the CWCB’s Oct. 31 filing this year, thanks to the board’s decision to delay its own application. The county wants approximately 25,600 acre-feet per year. There are ongoing costs associated with the filing — about $476,000 between this year and last. Its claim is being heard in water court.

More San Miguel River coverage here and here.