Aaron Million has a new plan for water from the Green River to the #Colorado Front Range

Split Mountain Gorge Green River June 2015 via Ana Ruiz

Updated with The Salt Lake Tribune story below.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Aaron Million has filed for a water right with the state of Utah for the project, which would involve diverting about 55,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Green River near the Browns Park area close to the Colorado line. The water would be piped east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado.

The project differs from a previous version Million proposed years ago in that it involves about a fifth as much water, and the previous incarnation would have diverted water upstream, from Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

Both the past and present versions have a hydropower element to them. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal…

He’s doing so through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, which Million said has a new board and project team compared to the company that pursued the prior project…

Harris said there’s no evidence that Million has identified end users for the water, and speculation on water is illegal in Colorado, which raises the question of whether he’s trying to get a water right in Utah to sidestep Colorado water courts.

Million said he had subscribed interest in more than 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project…

Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River District, said a Green River diversion to the Front Range would count against Colorado’s percentage of Upper Colorado River Basin water use under a 1948 compact with other Upper Basin states. Colorado already uses a higher percentage than it’s allocated under that compact, and if a water shortage kicks in under the basinwide 1922 compact and the Upper Basin has to deliver more water downstream, Colorado would have to contribute first to make up any deficit, Treese said.

He said there also are a lot of questions about what the route for the pipeline would be and whether anyone could use the water along the way.

“I think … right now the first step is trying to ascertain how serious (the proposal) is,” Treese said. “… It’s early in a process of looking at a long and complicated application.”

Million said the project’s estimated cost is $890 million to $1 billion, down from the $2.8 billion cost for the previous proposal.

He said a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range has allowed for a much smaller project to be affordably built and still help some water-short areas.

He described the project as “a very simple plumbing project” that would be first and foremost about supplying renewable energy. He said it would include huge amounts of hydropower and pumped-storage hydropower. The latter involves pumping water at night when electricity is cheap into upper reservoirs and then sending the water through generators back to lower reservoirs to create higher-priced power during the day.

He said his company is looking at using a lot of solar and wind energy to power pump stations.

Million said that in bringing new water to the Front Range, the project would take pressure off some Front Range rivers, along with some Colorado River headwater streams now heavily taxed by diversions across the Continental Divide. That would boost water levels in the Colorado River mainstem, he said.

He also sees a benefit in tapping the Green River watershed in a year such as this one, when snowpack levels in that watershed are much higher than in the upper reaches of the Colorado River Basin.

He added, “All of the global warming models show the Green River system to be wetter than average in the future compared to the Colorado River mainstem.”

Million said moving the diversion point downstream of Flaming Gorge Reservoir addresses concerns that have been raised about impacts the project could have had on reservoir levels.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

The proposal is a scaled-down version of Colorado resident Aaron Million’s controversial plan that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected in 2012. Under a new company name of Water Horse Resources LLC, the would-be water developer and Fort Collins-based entrepreneur filed the application Jan. 12, seeking permission to export 55,000 acre-feet of water, but with no specific use or destination offered.

His latest proposal, called Green River Pipeline or Flaming Gorge Project, would move 18 billion gallons a year — at a rate of 76 cubic feet per second — 375 miles across Wyoming, then south to Denver. Million estimates the project would cost $800 million to $1 billion, covered by private investors.

“We spent the last several years re-engineering the project and brought in a North American team and a new board of directors. Collectively they have $100 billion in net revenues,” said Million, who has also been working on his doctorate in natural-resource policy at Colorado State University.

His new vision of the project calls for powering the pipeline with wind and solar power, then recouping that energy with a series of inline hydro turbines on the downhill part of the line in Wyoming, taking advantage of the pipeline’s net elevation drop.

“At the end of the day, this is a renewable energy project,” Million said, noting the line would descend 3,800 vertical feet after cresting the Continental Divide. “That’s why we brought in the Canadians [SNC-Lavalin, headquartered in Montreal]. They are the world’s best in hydropower.”

He said the pipeline is being rebranded as Green River Sun Storage Hydropower Project, which will have a memorable acronym that resembles “grasshopper.”

The project began as Million’s master’s thesis. But from the beginning in 2006, his quest to tap the Green was ridiculed for its potentially astronomical costs, the lack of interest of water on the receiving end and subsequent denials from various permitting agencies…

“There is no indication that he is standing in the shoes of real users in Colorado, or Wyoming or anywhere,” said Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates, a public-interest law firm that contested Million’s earlier proposals. “Water is a public resource in Utah and Colorado. As such, in both our states you need a real use to have standing to claim a water right like this.”

[…]

Now Million proposes drawing the water from two points in Utah’s Daggett County, several miles downstream from the dam and just upstream from Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline alignment still tracks along Interstate 80 across Wyoming but it drops south only as far as Denver…

Under Million’s application, the appropriated water would be used in a variety of ways, including municipal, industrial, commercial, irrigation, livestock and mining. It would move in a buried pipeline through inline hydroelectric turbines in Wyoming, which would allow the project to capture some of the power it would use to lift the water over the Continental Divide.

Nor does the application identify any specific destination. It is accompanied by a hand-drawn map showing the pipeline alignment and a Y-shaped “place of use” in northern Colorado outlined in red, covering 47 townships. Maps of these townships are also attached to the application…

Among the partners Water Horse lists on its web site is Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to around 600 farms in the South Platte River Valley. The district is under contract to provide 85,000 acre-feet, but its ability to meet these obligations has been “curtailed” by half, according to executive director Randy Ray…

Daggett County opposed Million’s pipeline project the last time around. County Commission chairman Jack Lytle said he was not familiar enough with the new proposal to provide comment on Monday.
Conservation groups oppose the diversion because of its potential impact on habitat for both sport fish and endangered native species, such as the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The natives depend on occasional chaotic high flows that rearrange the stream channel, but have been widely depleted by dam operations…

“The river system is so overtaxed and these fish so overstressed, any more removal of water would jeopardize the existence of these four fish,” said Michael Saul of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Taking another 55,000 acre-feet out of the Green is a ridiculous idea in light of the fact that these fish are not recovering under the recovery plans now. This depletion is so huge, it is not covered by current biological opinions.”

For its part, Trout Unlimited has invested in programs that compensate water-rights holders for allowing more water to remain in the Colorado River system to support healthy fish habitat. A proposed diversion as big as the one Million is pursuing would defeat those efforts, according to Jordan Nielson, coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program.

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