Folks are lining up against the latest #GreenRiver to the Front Range water project from Aaron Million

Green River Basin

From The Craig Daily Press (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Several organizations have filed formal protest against a water rights application filed in January, which proposes diverting water from the Green River in Utah over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

The application, filed by Aaron Million’s Water Horses LLC, calls for 55,000-acre-feet of water to be used in a hydroelectric power facility, likely in Wyoming, before becoming available for consumptive use and in-stream flows on the Front Range. It proposes two pump stations on Bureau of Land Management land about 5 miles west of the state line in Dagget County, Utah, just before the river takes its 41-mile turn into Moffat County.

It would take about 500 miles of pipeline to divert the water from Utah north and east into Wyoming and the Front Range.

The location of the hydroelectric facility “will be determined at a later date, following additional project design and engineering,” according to the application.

Thirty two formal letters of protest from 27 individuals and organizations were submitted to the Utah State Engineer. Protests came from a wide swath of organizations, including a labor union on Water Horse Resources’ project team, an energy company, several environmental nonprofits, private individuals and state and federal agencies. The public protest period on the project closed April 7.

Now, the Utah Division of Water Resources will make a decision on whether to grant the water right. Once the decision comes out, it could be appealed in court.

“It’s just a disagreeable idea to have water from this side of the mountain going over to the other side of the mountain for development purposes, maybe even speculative development purposes, at that,” said Terry Carwile, a Craig resident who sent a letter of protest on the project.

Million has filed applications for Green River water before. In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Water Horse Resource’s application to divert 240,000 acre-feet of water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to the Front Range…

The project would cost about $890 million, according to a news release from Water Horse Resources LLC. The company has nicknamed it the “Grasshopper Project,” a play on the pronunciation of an acronym of the project’s full name, Green Sun Storage Hydro Power.

“The Green has numerous advantages,” Water Horse Resource’s Tom Wood said in the news release. “A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the state of Colorado’s storage availability.”

In the news release, Million said that “surpluses out of the Green River can alleviate some issues on the Front Range and take pressure off the high mountain Colorado River headwaters, like the Blue and Fraser River.” Million thinks the project would help net flows on the Colorado River.

“The Green River is one of the remaining watersheds in the Colorado River Basin — specifically in Colorado – that isn’t completely allocated. The state and management/planning entities in the water community want to be able to plan appropriately for the future use of that water,” said Zane Kessler, a spokesperson for the Colorado River District, the organization that operates Elkhead Reservoir and is largely responsible for management of water in the Colorado River Basin.

“The application that we’re looking at now, filed by Mr. Million, would essentially usurp our ability to collectively plan for the appropriate development of the remaining and dwindling water resources that we have at our disposal,” he added.

Kessler said the Colorado River District is concerned the proposal could have far-reaching impacts. The district is worried the proposal could “push us over the cliff,” in meeting obligations to send water downstream under the Colorado River Compact. Should this project over-allocate water in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado water users could be forced to reduce use.

“The risk is not only borne by users on the Green River,” Kessler said. “It’s users throughout the Colorado River basin and the state.”

In Utah, state officials are concerned about impacts to Green River users, as well as the state’s ability to manage for endangered fish. In a letter of protest filed by the Utah Board of Water Resources, officials also question whether the state of Colorado would count the diversion against Colorado’s allocation under the Colorado River Compact.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Colorado River Water Conservation District is opposing a water developer’s plan to divert water from the Green River in Utah and pipe it to growing Front Range communities.

The River District formally opposed the proposal by Aaron Million and Water Horse Resources LLC for a Utah water right to divert 55,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River and pipe it to the fast-growing metro area.

Million’s proposal is similar to, but smaller, than a previous proposal to pump water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and pipe it across the Continental Divide.

The River District complained in a filing with the Utah Division of Water Rights that Million’s proposal was speculative in that he had failed to specify a use or need for the water and noted that he should first obtain a Colorado water right.

Million’s project also would adversely impact the ability of the state of Colorado, the River District and other public entities to plan for the development of Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, and so his application “would be detrimental to the public welfare.”

Million called it “unfortunate that they don’t take a broader view” of how to manage water in the arid West…

Under Interior Department estimates, about 500,000 acre-feet of water remain to be appropriated in the Colorado River system and his project could reduce stress on the headwaters of the Colorado River, Million said.

The River District’s objection to a Utah water right for the project also noted that Million had not demonstrated he could operate the plan in compliance with the Colorado water plan’s conceptual framework on transmountain diversions.

The current proposal, like Million’s last one, is predicated on the idea that Colorado has a right to water from the Green River because it takes a “41-mile dogleg” into Colorado after leaving Wyoming and heading into Utah.

The River District urged the Utah agency to reject Million’s request unless he can prove the project won’t “adversely impact existing water uses in the Upper Basin” of the river and that it would not be detrimental to the public welfare.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources say in their protest letter that the proposal is “very unusual,” and that it “requests a huge amount of water” — 76 cubic-feet per second or 55,000 acre-feet a year — “from Utah’s precious water resources, for some unknown use in Colorado.”

They say the water right application, “if granted, would allow Colorado to benefit from the development, economic opportunities, and public well-being benefits that accrue from water resources at Utah’s expense.”

Aaron Million, the Fort Collins man who filed the application through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, said the protest from the water board is standard, to provide standing in the water right case if any major concerns arise for the protesters in the future…

The Utah water resources board is appointed by Utah’s governor to develop and conserve the state’s water. The decision on Million’s water right proposal will be made by Utah’s state engineer, who heads the state’s Division of Water Rights.

Million is proposing piping the water east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado…

The river district filed a protest against Million’s new proposal. So did the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, several conservation groups, and several local water conservancy districts and water users associations in Utah.

The Utah water resources board and division say in their letter that the current application “will have huge impacts in Utah,” affecting water supply and quality in the state even as its population is growing and its water needs are increasing, and impacting public recreation and the stream environment along the Green River.

They question the physical and economic feasibility of piping the water “over or around the Rocky Mountains” for use on the Front Range, and say the application was filed for speculative purposes.

“Nothing in the vague application outlines actual beneficial uses in Colorado. No contracts or other types of agreements are provided demonstrating that Colorado can beneficially use the water, or for what beneficial uses it would be employed,” the letter says.

Million says he had subscribed interest for 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project, and demand for water has gone up since then.

He estimates that the project could cost up to $1 billion, down from an estimated $2.8 billion for the previous one, and says a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range helps make the project economic.

The Utah water resource officials, in their letter, also question what authorizations the project has from the state of Colorado to ensure the diversion would count against Colorado’s allocation under an interstate compact divvying up water among states in the Upper Colorado River Basin…

Million said other similar projects already exist in the Upper Colorado River Basin, and he noted that Utah is pursuing a project that would involve diverting water out of the Arizona portion of Lake Powell and piping it into Utah.

From the Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon):

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a protest today with Utah’s state engineer challenging a water-rights application from Water Horse Resources to pump nearly 18 billion gallons of water each year from Utah’s Green River over the Rocky Mountains to Colorado’s Front Range.

The plan is the second attempt by would-be water developer Aaron Million to pump water from the Green River to the Front Range. Million’s first plan was rejected twice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 following challenges by conservation groups and others.

“This is another private water-mining boondoggle that hurts everyone but water barons,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon. “It’s bad for people who depend on the Green River, it’s bad for endangered fish, and it’s bad for the state of Utah. We’ve given the state engineer a long list of reasons to reject this application and that’s exactly what he should do.”

Today’s protest states that the application violates state law by failing to identify beneficial uses of the water and by exacerbating water shortages. The withdrawal would overallocate water in the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, and add to climate-driven flow declines. The application is predicated on using Colorado’s apportionment under the Upper Colorado River Compact, but provides no evidence that Colorado has agreed, or will agree, to this.

The water withdrawals would occur below Flaming Gorge Dam in a part of the Green River that is critical to the recovery of Colorado pikeminnow and other endangered fish. The withdrawal would reduce river flows designed to help increase the fish population at a time when failure to meet recovery flows already imperils the fish. Drought is expected to cause low river flows throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin this year.

Download a copy of today’s protest.

Link to Utah Division of Water Rights website for the project via Aspen Journalism.

White River algae mitigation update

Bloom on the White River.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

From the White River Conservation District (Callie Hendrickson) via The Rio Blanco Times:

Thank you to all the interested public and stakeholders for your commitment to finding the drivers of the algae in the White River. We also want to thank you all for your patience with our Technical Committee (TC) as they have put a great amount of time, effort, and energy into identifying the most critical elements to the Scope of Work (SOW) that will help identify the causes of the algae. This is a very complex problem that has evolved over time and it will require some time to identify the cause. It is anticipated that there is no one single cause or source of this problem. There are multiple rivers across the western United States that are experiencing the excess algae issue, much like the White River.

A quick review of what the Technical Committee has done reminds us that USGS had originally recommended we do a one-year study primarily up-river from Meeker. The TC asked USGS to provide a proposal that would also include studying the river all the way down to Rangely and to make it a multi-year study over concerns that one year’s worth of data would not be statistically significant. USGS came back to the group with that proposal which gave many of the committee members “sticker shock.”

Realizing that it would be a huge challenge to get down to the detail necessary, a five-member workgroup was appointed in January to work out those details and bring a recommendation back to the TC. The final recommendation from the workgroup is the culmination of many hours (days), conversations, meetings, emails, etc. I’m confident that the workgroup has done exactly what the TC asked.

In reviewing the USGS draft SOW, the workgroup literally dissected it into a chart where they evaluated it line by line based on prioritized questions. Then they developed and analyzed a more elaborate spreadsheet for more discussion so that they could sort based on priorities and the “core” tasks required to ensure scientific analysis and credibility to the study. There were a number of tasks that each individual would like to include but the group finalized the SOW based on the highest priorities ensuring scientific integrity in determining the cause of excess algae. The workgroup’s final step in the two-month processes is to present the final SOW to the technical committee on March 21.

The workgroup recognizes that there is a sense of urgency in finding the cause of the algae and has balanced that sense of urgency with a solid scientific-based study that will give us the best of both worlds. To identify different sources of nutrients in the White River as quickly as possible, the proposed SOW will analyze isotopic-signatures of oxygen and nitrogen from nitrate in various source materials and in the river during 2018. Please remember, there is no guarantee that the “signatures” will be different enough to help determine the potential source. While analyzing samples for isotopic signatures, the proposed SOW will simultaneously include efforts to help develop a better understanding of the physical and chemical properties controlling the algal growth.

The draft proposal includes annual progress reports from USGS to evaluate the next year’s proposed work based on findings of the current year. We will be using adaptive project management based on annual findings.

While the anticipated cost is more than any of us would like to see, the workgroup has done a great deal of individual research and determined that we do need all the components of this SOW. Discussion was had about the USGS preliminary costs being a little higher than potentially other researchers. The consensus of the workgroup was that with USGS providing 35 percent of the funding and their reputation of being nonbiased, they are the best entity to have do this research and analysis.

So, how are we going to pay for the study? We currently have commitments for a total of $60,000 for 2018. That leaves us approximately $30,000 to raise for 2018 work. The conservation district and others will be meeting with individuals and agencies during the remainder of March to solicit this $30,000 because it is too short of a time frame to get grant funding and it seems like it is a “doable” amount to raise for such an important issue to the community.

In ensuing years, we will be seeking support again from the stakeholders and applying for grants through the Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and others to be determined.

The White River Conservation District anticipates that we will have annual agreements with USGS for the study dependent upon funding availability and on adaptive research based on each year’s outcome.

The technical committee meeting will be March 21 at the Fairfield Center beginning at 11 a.m. At that time the workgroup will give a brief overview of their recommendations followed by a more detailed presentation of the SOW by USGS. We will break for lunch and reconvene at 1:30 p.m. for further discussion and public comment specifically on the proposal in anticipation of finalizing the SOW by end of the day.

Landowners and interested parties are welcome to attend the technical committee meeting and will have an opportunity to provide comment and input on the proposal during the public comment period. We strongly encourage that anyone interested in providing comment in the afternoon attend the morning session, where they receive a copy of the proposal and hear the presentations.

Visit the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website (www.whiterivercd.com) to find copies of the workgroup’s recommendations, previous meetings’ minutes, research and meeting information. Contact the conservation district office at 878-9838 with any questions.

The DWR is enforcing well rules in the Upper Yampa River

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

When the Stagecoach Property Owners Association was informed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources in summer 2017 that it was temporarily suspending the issuance of well permits in unincorporated Stagecoach, 18 miles south of Steamboat Springs, it caused a significant amount of distress.

Some homeowners in Stagecoach get their domestic water from the Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District, but many others, with lots of 1 to 2 acres, rely on water wells.

With 2,300 platted building lots and only 400 of them developed, people were concerned that the moratorium might become permanent and de-value their properties. With the arrival of spring, most of those worries have been resolved, Stagecoach Property Owners Association President John Troka said.

Since last summer, the Colorado Division of Water Resources has studied the circumstances that led to the moratorium. Decades ago, neither property owners in some rural subdivisions here nor the Routt County Planning Department had been submitting water supply plans to the Colorado Division of Water Resources for its review and approval.

In the interim, the Yampa River above Steamboat Springs, as well as the entire length of the Elk River, have become over-appropriated, placing homeowners in rural subdivisions where they depend on wells for domestic water temporarily in limbo.

However, the Division of Water Resources studied the situation through autumn 2017, and State Engineer and Director of the Division Kevin G. Rein reached a solution intended to honor the rights of senior water rights holders and do as little harm as possible to people living in rural subdivisions. He sent his findings to Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips in a lengthy memo dated Feb. 1.

Troka thinks the Division’s findings worked out as well as they could have for Stagecoach property owners.

“We put our lawyers on notice,” Troka said. “(The Division) could have drawn a hard line. This was a positive outcome for us. People in originally platted subdivisions out there can relax. Owners will be allowed to drill a well.”

What they won’t be able to do is irrigate their yards or gardens, nor will they be able to provide water to livestock. These restrictions will protect the rights of those senior water rights holders.

That’s not a big deal in Stagecoach where the large majority of people have natural yards, and as Troka pointed out, the property owners association rules forbid horses.

However, the story varies around the upper Yampa Valley. But for the present, there are far less concerns, because the Yampa in that stretch is not yet over-appropriated.

Say goodby to Green Acres?

Stagecoach wasn’t the only neighborhood in Routt County where rural subdivisions were confronted last summer with the suspension of well permitting. The same process was being applied to long-standing subdivisions in the upper Yampa Valley above Steamboat Springs and in the Elk River Valley.

The rub has to do with the fact that the waters in the Yampa River above the kayak feature in downtown Steamboat Springs, known as Charlie’s Hole, and the Elk River basin have been deemed over-appropriated. There’s no more water in the streams and rivers that isn’t spoken for.

The second issue is the Division’s recognition last year that there are rural subdivisions in Routt County in those watersheds where the Division has discovered that it never had the opportunity to review “water supply plans” required of many new subdivisions, depending on when they were approved. That means the potential to harm senior water holders was never adequately considered.

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips described the situation in a memo to the Board of County Commissioners.

“The regulations required an applicant wanting to subdivide land to provide proof of a dependable and potable water supply,” Phillips wrote. “The regulations laid out several ways an applicant could prove this. During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, staff did not send a referral to the Division for their covenants … because it was not required by the regulations.”

Kevin G. Rein, state engineer and director of the Division of Water Resources, wrote in his agency’s finding that in spite of the lack of the required water supply plans, the division will continue to issue well permits in the affected subdivisions “under limited conditions.”

The good news is that the division will resume issuing well permits in over-appropriated areas. The concerning news, for some, is that in certain cases the new permits will be limited to providing water for use within the home only. Using the water outside the home to water gardens or horses won’t be permitted, unless the property owners are able to arrange a contract leading to an “augmentation plan,” which would offset an outdoor use with stored water, for example, from another basin.

Division 6 water engineer Erin Light said the application of the Division’s findings varies from subdivision to subdivision.

And Rein’s memo to Phillips contains eight different scenarios about how Rein’s findings will be applied in different rural subdivisions, varying with circumstances like the layout of the subdivision and the configuration of the lots.

Rural property owners can read Rein’s findings for various categories of rural subdivisions in the appendixes at the bottom of his letter to Routt County, which is embedded in the online version of this news story.

#Utah is embarking on planning effort for the sustainability of the #GreenRiver and the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The plans affect those state-owned sovereign land sections of the rivers as they go through Uintah, Grand, Emery, Wayne, Garfield, Kane and San Juan counties. The beds of navigable waters are owned by the state but held in trust for the public.

Plans will be developed, with public input, under the purview of the Utah Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

That division is required to regulate all uses on, beneath or above the bed of the rivers, including protecting navigation, fish and wildlife habitat, aquatic beauty, public recreation and water quality.

These first-ever comprehensive management plans will also include an update of mineral leasing plans impacting Green and Colorado river resources.

During March and April, the division — assisted by contractors SWCA Environmental Consultants; CRSA architects, planning and design; and Hansen, Allen & Luce — will present information regarding the plan development process at open house meetings in each county that contains state-owned sovereign land sections of the rivers.

The open houses, all from 6 to 8 p.m., are as follows:

• Uintah County, March 27, at the Uintah County Library in Vernal

• Kane County, April 10, at the Kanab City Library in Kanab

• Garfield County April 11, at the Escalante Senior Center in Escalante

• Wayne County, April 12, at the Hanksville EMS Building in Hanksville

• San Juan County, April 17, at the San Juan County Administration Building in Monticello

• Grand County, April 18, at the Grand County High School Auditorium in Moab

• Emery County, April 19, at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River

All residents are encouraged to attend the public open house meeting in their county.

“Public involvement is an important part of the Green and Colorado river planning process,” said project manager Laura Vernon, adding “suggestions and concerns about the rivers can help us identify issues and develop management plan objectives.”

Steamboat State of the River Forum, Tuesday, March 20

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From Steamboat Today:

A Steamboat State of the River Forum will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 20 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. A free chili supper will be served at 5:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 6 p.m.

Retired state climatologist Nolan Doesken will discuss how this winter unfolded and talk about the weather patterns that have created a low snow year on par with the record drought year of 2002.

Also speaking will be Andy Mueller, new general manager of the Colorado River District. Mueller will highlight river district priorities surrounding irrigated agriculture and Lake Powell, as well as talk about operations of Wolford Mountain and Elkhead reservoirs.

Other presenters include the following:

  • Kevin McBride, manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, who will talk about snowpack and reservoir operations.
  • Zack Smith of the Colorado Water Trust, who will discuss the Yampa River water leasing program.
  • Erin Light, Division 6 engineer, who will address water administration.
  • Jackie Brown, chair of the Yampa-White –Green River Roundtable, who will give an update on water resources planning and actions.
  • The meeting is sponsored by the Community Agriculture Alliance, the Colorado River District, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Yampa-White-Green River Roundtable.

    Aaron Million’s latest project met with skepticism in #Wyoming

    The confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers in 2016. How much water reaches this point, bound for Lake Powell, has implications across the west and Colorado, and an ongoing water study might suggest how to manage water in a severe drought. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith.

    From The Wyoming Business Report (MJ Clark):

    Although Colorado has the right to develop its unused compact water, as does Wyoming, those involved in Wyoming water issues note that this project could result in major changes in how water is managed in the basin, since it changes how much water will be headed downstream from Flaming Gorge.

    The first time was expected to divert 250,000 acre-feet of water, and to cost $3 billion. After working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the project for two years, the Corps cancelled Million’s application in July of 2011.

    The second try

    Million immediately tried again and proposed tapping into the Green River at two sites – one just three miles below the city of Green River, Wyoming and the other from the western edge of the Flaming Gorge reservoir. Although the amount of water he wanted was the same, this time, Million quoted the cost as between $7 billion and $9 billion because he was adding a hydropower component to the plan. Thanks to the hydropower aspect, this new project would be under the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

    A Western Resource Advocates study on the second proposal predicted that not only would the water supplied by the pipeline cost up to ten times the price of water from other developments, it would also lower the level of the popular Flaming Gorge Reservoir by 10 feet – hurting fishing and tourist traffic in the Gorge, and river rafters along the Green and Colorado rivers by $58.5 million a year.

    A coalition of more than 250 businesses from seven states; ten conservation groups and Sweetwater County and the City of Laramie fought the development, along with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, who wrote a letter to FERC that said in part, “”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 also objected to the 25,000 acre-feet of water per year belonging to Wyoming that Million was including in his proposed ‘take.’

    When the FERC dismissed Million’s application as “premature” in February of 2012, Million was unfazed and told the Denver Post that, “The FERC dismissal has zero to do with us moving forward.”

    The third time

    In April of 2012, Million argued his case in a guest column for the Northern Colorado Business Report (at the time a sister paper to the Wyoming Business Report), claiming that less than 5 percent of the “massive Flaming Gorge Reservoir” would be pumped to Colorado’s Front Range annually. Meanwhile, it would help northern Colorado face its own water supply shortfalls.

    “If it is environmentally sound, it should be permitted and built,” Million wrote in the column, seemingly addressing the myriad environmental groups voicing fervent opposition to the pipeline. “If not, then stick a fork in it. The truth of a full scientific and environmental evaluation may be hard for some in the environmental community to swallow, but the consequences of not allowing that evaluation to occur remain.”

    As the Wyoming Business Report’s Mark Wilcox wrote at the time; “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 was granted a FERC hearing on his third proposal on April 23, 2012. Then his proposal was was rejected. “FERC’s ruling doesn’t affect us from the standpoint of continuing to move forward,” Million told the Wyoming Business Report at the time in a phone interview. However, the FERC denied him a re-hearing.

    “We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit,” the commission said in its filing…

    Is the fourth time a charm?

    This January, Million was back with a new approach. This time, he started by petitioning Utah for the water rights. This approach – petitioning for water to export from Utah – was so unusual that the state didn’t even have a form to fill out for it.

    Rob Harris, senior staff attorney at Western Resource Advocates (whose Wyoming ties include a grandfather from Basin) notes that the problem with petitioning for water rights as an individual is that “All three states have an anti-speculation doctrine in our water rights laws. [Million] doesn’t actually stand in the shoes of any actual Colorado water users. It’s really basic stuff he’s running up against – it’s why this has floundered in the past, and will continue to flounder until he’s made contractural arrangement with people who he’s going to supply water to.”

    An examination of Million’s application with the state of Utah has the all eventual users of the water identified as “TBD.”

    Harris points to a previous case in which water from the Arkansas Valley was eyed for the Front Range. “The court said ‘No way! You don’t have any contracts.’ It would be one thing if it were a city doing this, but this is just a guy trying to make money.”

    In addition to the change at the start of the process, Million’s fourth try has a few key differences to the last ones. First, he’s moved the point of diversion 50 miles southeast into Utah, away from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which should be some relief to the Wyoming outdoor recreation industry – but less comfort to Colorado River rafters.

    Second, he’s reduced the amount of water he wants to take each year from 250,000 acre-feet to 55,000 acre-feet. “It’s less water than last time,” Harris admits, “but it’s still a heck of a lot. You could run a pretty good-sized city on 55,000 acre-feet a year.”

    Third, he’s changed the name of the company he’s operating from Wyoco Power and Water Inc. to Water Horse Resources LLC.

    “I think he’ll point to the tons of growth in the Front Range, and that there is a gap between known [water] supplies and what’s needed to meet the expected population growth,” Harris said. “But if you look at the really big players in water on the Front Range (Denver Water, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Northern Water Conservency District), they’re all pursuing alternative sources [not tapping into the Green River]. They are emphasising creative ways to conserve and share the local water supply.”

    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.