Flaming Gorge pipeline: Earthjustice, et al. to FERC — ‘No’ should mean no to do-over for preliminary permit

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From the Earthjustice blog (Doug Pflugh):

Million is back at it again, asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider his application for a preliminary permit. Million’s request comes on the heels of FERC’s dismissal of his preliminary permit. You may remember that Million turned to FERC after an earlier attempt to permit this project was terminated by the Army Corps of Engineers last summer. That’s two no’s in less than one year. Will a third do the trick?

This week, Earthjustice, representing 10 environmental groups, filed papers with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) objecting to a do-over by FERC. FERC’s decision to deny the permit was right on the money and should have been the end of this scheme. But, with at least $1.4 billion at stake—according to Million—it’s easy to understand why he isn’t giving up easily…

Earthjustice represents a coalition of ten conservation groups with interests throughout the Colorado River Basin: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, and Utah Rivers Council.

More coverage from Mark Wilcox writing for the Wyoming Business Report. From the article:

Aaron Million’s confidential business plan to annually pump about 81 billion gallons out of Flaming Gorge and the Green River that feeds it has been revealed to the Associated Press, and it is no small wonder he has not taken ‘no’ for an answer. The plan would bring in an estimated net profit of between $1.4 and $2.4 billion. And that’s after construction costs of somewhere between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion. And end users of the water would pay up to $117 million in annual operating costs based on a “cost plus 20 percent” business model with estimated operating costs of between $70 million and $90 million…

“Million’s plan is a blatant attempt to transform an important public good into billions of dollars of private profit,” said Earthjustice staff attorney McCrystie Adams in a statement urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission not to rehear Million’s request. Earthjustice represents various conservation clients on this issue. “We know from the developer’s public statements and documents that he’s looking for someone else to cover the millions of dollars of permitting costs that will undoubtedly be associated with what they describe as ‘the largest water infrastructure, pipeline, hydropower and storage project’ in the region.”

Adams’ statement refers to portions of the plan showing that Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. is seeking to raise $15 million through 2015 to get through the permitting process. While the amount raised so far is confidential, $5 million has been spent on the permitting process.

“It is clear that Million sees the Flaming Gorge Pipeline as his Mega-Millions jackpot and hopes someone else will pay for his tickets,” Adams wrote. “Fortunately, the odds of permitting this boondoggle are similar to winning the lottery.”

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Drought/snowpack news: Statewide snowpack 49% of average, southwestern Colorado slipping into drought

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“Our snow is melting fast,” said Rege Leach, a Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer in Durango. “Stream flows are higher and earlier than average.” The area had boosted some of the healthiest snowpack in the state. But now, the San Juan Basin, which is drained by rivers from Wolf Creek Pass to the Utah state line, has seen its snowpack decline rapidly. “Our snowpack was 50 percent of average Tuesday, compared to 84 percent of average on the same date last year,” Leach said. “Still, we’re doing well when compared to 2002, when we were 29 percent of average on that date.”[…]

The entire Four Corners now is rated D0, Ryan said. The D2 zone that covered the northwest part of the state, Rio Blanco and Routt counties, has been expanded, she said. The Rio Grande and Arkansas basins have been D3 and D4 since last summer. Leach said that this week, the Gunnison Basin snowpack was 57 percent of average; the upper Colorado Basin, 45 percent; the Yampa, 46 percent; the Arkansas, 59 percent; and the South Platte, 57 percent…

The National Weather Service outlook for the next three months isn’t encouraging. “It appears that temperatures will be above normal and precipitation below normal for April, May and June,” Paul Frisbie, a National Weather Service meteorologist said. “I don’t see anything that tells me I’m wrong.” Strong wind also can cause snow to melt more rapidly, Frisbie said. Moisture is lost to evaporation rather than gathered as runoff, he said.

From the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

This year’s forecast of 49 percent of normal April through July flows into Lake Powell stems in part from very warm weather in March that prematurely melted an already less than spectacular snowpack in the river’s Upper Basin. That’s the source of most of the river water flowing into the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California…

CAP officials are predicting they won’t see shortages in the canal system that runs from western Arizona through Phoenix and Tucson until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s latest forecast says peak flow of the Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs is likely to be 2,800 cubic feet per second — just 47 percent of the average peak. The forecast could be altered by a drastic change in the weather. In contrast, the river peaked at 8,200 cfs last year — nearly 39 percent above average. It peaked on July 2. The normal peak is between May 29 and June 23, according to the river forecast center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

The amount of water that will flow through the Roaring Fork River from April 1 through July 31 is forecast to be 380 kilo acre feet, or 54 percent of the average of 704 kilo acre feet, according to Mage Skordahl, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A revised streamflow forecast was issued April 1. It reflects the significant drop in the snowpack Colorado experienced during March, Skordahl said. The statewide snowpack fell to 52 percent of average as of April 1. That was down from 81 percent on March 1…

An automated snowpack measuring station 10 miles east of Aspen showed the snowpack was just 46 percent of average. In the entire Roaring Fork River basin, the snowpack is highest at the Ivanhoe site in Fryingpan Valley, at 69 percent. It is lowest at Nast Lake, also in the Fryingpan Valley, at just 10 percent of average. Nast Lake is at 8,700 feet in elevation. Ivanhoe is at 69 percent.

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

No significant drought is expected to impact northeast Colorado, including Larimer County, through June, according to a seasonal drought forecast issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday. The outlook forecasts a significant drought intensifying in southern Colorado and west of the Continental Divide, but near-normal conditions are expected throughout the northeast quadrant of the state…

The National Weather Service is forecasting good chances of below-normal precipitation for nearly all of Colorado through April and May.

“They’re basically saying we’re going to continue as-is,” said meteorologist Mark Heuer of DayWeather in Cheyenne, Wyo. “We’re not going to be seeing actual drought conditions develop, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be drier and warmer than normal. We’re probably going to be looking at increased fire danger, water restrictions and also below-average precipitation as we get into and through the spring months.”