Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff, Marc Milller):
The Bureau of Reclamation invites members of the press and public to a meeting to continue negotiations with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The purpose of these negotiations is to agree to terms for an operations, maintenance and replacement contract for the federally-owned Cutter Lateral features of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, located near Bloomfield, New Mexico.
This operations, maintenance and replacement contract for Cutter Lateral will facilitate water delivery to the Navajo and Jicarilla Apache Nations. The negotiations and subsequent contract provide the legal mechanism for delivery of the Navajo Nation’s Settlement Water in the state of New Mexico. WHAT: Public meeting to negotiate the Cutter Lateral operations, maintenance and replacement contract.
WHEN: Friday, September 13, 2019, at 9:00 a.m. at 1:00 p.m.
WHERE: Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Walter F. Wolf Conference Room 2nd Floor GM Suite, Indian Navajo Route 12, Fort Defiance, AZ 86504
WHY: The contract to be negotiated will provide terms and conditions for the operation, maintenance and replacement of specific project features. All negotiations are open to the public as observers and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty-minute comment period following the negotiation session.
The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting. They can also be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, 970-385-6541, email@example.com.
Chris Woodka is with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. He said part of the reason we’re seeing more water systems violate water standards is that federal and state standards have changed. They are now accounting for even more minute quantities of contaminants.
He said water from wells can be especially affected because, “shallow wells in the alluvial aquifer are high in organic contaminants, nitrate and selenium.”
“Deeper wells often have elevated levels of radioactive materials,” he said. “And nearly all of the communities east of Pueblo take water from wells.”
Some communities have responded by using water filters. Las Animas and La Junta have both installed large reverse osmosis membrane systems to remove contaminants from the water supply. Woodka said that has improved the taste and appearance.
But, he said, even after filtration, radium and uranium can still remain in the water at low levels.
And then there’s the cost.
“Those communities still face tremendous expense in disposing of the waste from the treatment processes,” Woodka said, “which can only be reduced by adding more clean water.” And extra water, let alone clean water, is hard to come by in a drought-prone state like Colorado. But there is one possible solution that’s been in the works for decades.
It’s called the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation describes the conduit as a “bulk water supply pipeline designed to meet existing and future municipal and industrial water demands in the Lower Arkansas River Basin.”
It would include about 230 miles of buried pipeline, a water treatment facility, and water storage tanks. Water would be routed to six counties – Pueblo, Otero, Crowley, Bent, Kiowa and Prowers – and would serve an estimated 50,000 people.
The project was first approved in 1962. Some work was completed in the early 1980’s, but the actual conduit has yet to come to completion. Woodka said that’s mainly because of cost.
“[These] communities could never afford to build [the conduit] themselves.” Woodka explained.
Congress passed a law in 2009 that reduced the amount of money local governments would have to pitch in for the project. Woodka said that finally made the construction of the conduit feasible.
But it’s still a $500 million project.
“The main problem that we’ve run into,” said Woodka, ”has been getting adequate federal appropriations to start building it. He said they are working on ways to lower the overall costs of the project.”
Woodka said lawmakers at the state and national level have been “extremely active” in promoting this project on both sides of the political spectrum…
[Republican State Senator Larry Crowder] said the key now is for residents to get involved.
“We’re getting the cities involved, we’re getting the people in the cities involved to send letters to Senator Gardner, Senator Bennet and Congressmen Buck and Tipton,” he said, “to make sure that they are aware of how the people feel about it.”
Despite the risk that the river resource is overcommitted and it is shrinking, four Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – are pushing forward with dams, reservoir expansions and pipelines like the one at Lake Powell that will allow them to capture what they were promised under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have been using that water downstream for nearly a century.
President Donald Trump signed the basin-wide drought contingency plan in April, just weeks after the state of Utah declared in a news release that the river, which serves 40 million people, is “a reliable source of water.”
“What they need to do – the lower states – is use their right that’s allocated to them, and we will use our right that’s allocated to us,” said Mike Styler, who retired recently after 14 years as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
A former state lawmaker, Styler originally voted on pushing forward with the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline. Once completed, the diversion project, which would draw from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, about 86,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to support nearly 100,000 households…
The St. George metropolitan area was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April. Past data showed the area as the fastest growing in 2017 and the fifth-fastest growing between 2010 and 2018.
Pipeline proponents anticipate the trend will continue, with the current population of around 171,000 residents expected to swell to around 509,000 by 2065. And that growth is why they insist the pipeline is necessary…
The state has already spent more than $30 million on its application to build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the project’s environmental impacts. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, a project partner, estimates that the license could be finalized in two years, construction would begin a few years later and the pipeline would be operating by around 2030.
But pipeline critics call the project too risky, too pricey and unnecessary. They contend that too much Colorado River water has already been promised to too many people.
“We are way beyond the budget of what the Colorado River can deliver, and when you just look at how much water is in the river and how much everyone else wants to take out, it’s just not there,” said Nick Schou, conservation director for the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.
Schou said the Lower Basin states are facing cuts of as much as 500,000 acre-feet at the same time the Upper Basin states are planning nine projects that will draw about 400,000 acre-feet.
“Not only are we overusing the water, but there’s going to be a lot less to go around in the future,” Schou said…
The project’s overall cost is another big concern for critics. Proponents estimate the pipeline’s cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. Critics say the price tag will probably be $3.2 billion or higher. And water users would be saddled with the cost, since the what used to be common federal subsidies for big water projects have evaporated.
Falling storage levels at both lakes Powell and Mead have highlighted the potential effects of climate change on the Colorado River, causing some to question its future viability as a reliable water supply source for the state of Utah.
“All water providers, including the State of Utah, understand the level of concern some have regarding the perceived uncertainty associated with the use of Colorado River water,” said Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “The Colorado River is reliable. We work closely with our federal partners and other basin states to plan for future needs and mitigate potential impacts. The drought contingency plans recently outlined by the Upper and Lower Basin states serve as an example of such planning.”
When looking at whether the river can meet future needs, scientists, water providers, and those who manage the river look at its past performance during varying weather conditions. Colorado River flows are cyclical, as are weather patterns.
The system’s reliability is documented in the benchmark Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) 2012 Colorado River Basin Study. The study reports that, in the 10 years preceding its issuance, which had been some of the driest of the last century, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) have delivered more than 92 million acre feet of water to the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California)—that’s 17 million acre feet more than the minimum required by the Colorado River Compact.
“In both wet and dry cycles over the past century, the river has always provided enough water to meet established uses and compact requirements,” said Don Ostler, former Executive Director and Secretary of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “Recent hydrologic modeling, based on projected drought scenarios, has shown the river to be capable of remaining a reliable supply for the Upper Basin into the future, especially if the basin states continue to work cooperatively on sensible drought contingency plans.”
The 2012 Basin Study and associated climate model projections indicate a potential decrease in mean natural flow of the Colorado River of approximately 9 percent over the next 50 years. In
addition, some scientists predict that as a consequence of continued warming in the basin, the decrease in river flows could be even greater.
Modeling conducted by BOR in August 2018, taking into account future water uses in the Upper Basin including the Lake Powell Pipeline, indicates a near 0 percent probability of a declared 1922 Compact shortage for the Upper Basin through the year 2050 presuming hydrology remains similar to what the basin has experienced over the last 100 years. On the other hand, if the future hydrology of the basin is similar to drier, hotter climate change predictions, more closely resembling the last 30 years including historic drought, the risk of a declared 1922 Compact shortage rises to less than 13 percent through the year 2050.
“The BOR and the basin states are planning for the possibility of a long-term imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River. To mitigate the risks and uncertainties associated with these water supplies, Utah has worked with the other states in the Upper Basin to develop an agreement on drought contingency development. Since the river provides water to some 40 million people, it is imperative that the western states, including Utah, all do their part to protect this river,” said Millis.
Utah receives 23 percent of the Colorado River water supply available to the Upper Basin. Utah is using approximately 72 percent of the current annual reliable supply of 1.4 million acre feet, including evaporation and system loss. The reliability of the Colorado River gives Utah the opportunity to develop its water for the benefit of Utah.
Even though Utah may be developing its water rights later than some of the other basin states, it does not mean there will not be enough water for projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. There is water available for the Lake Powell Pipeline, which is currently being permitted to meet the needs of the fastest growing region of the state. The Lake Powell Pipeline would transport 86,249 acre feet of Colorado River water from Lake Powell through a buried pipeline to Washington and Kane counties.
Utah’s share of the water is not subject to a prior appropriation or “first in time, first in right,” administrative scheme among the states. The compacts that guide each states’ use of Colorado River water were expressly developed to ensure that faster growing states would not be able to claim all of the available basin water.
“The Utah Board of Water Resources can develop a portion of Utah’s Colorado River in a manner consistent with the Law of the River,” Millis said. “Utah’s right to develop water for the Lake Powell Pipeline is equal to, not inferior to, the rights of all the other 1922 Compact signatory states.”
With the projected need for more water in southwest Utah as early as the late 2020s, the Utah Division of Water Resources continues to advance the permitting for the Lake Powell Pipeline. The Environmental Impact Statement is the next step with a Record of Decision estimated to be issued in the fall of 2020.
Click here to read the annual report from the Upper Colorado River Commission.
As predecessors before them, Renewable Water Resources spokesmen on Thursday outlined plans for a 22,000-acre-foot water export project stemming from the northern San Luis Valley to customers in the south metro Denver area.
“This will be a win-win,” Sean Tonner told the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) board during a special meeting Thursday morning.
Tonner is a managing partner with Renewable Water Resources (RWR), a Colorado company with support from former Governor Bill Owens (for whom Tonner worked as deputy chief of staff when he was governor), former State Senator Greg Brophy, Greg Kolomitz and others. Tonner said he purchased the former Gary Boyce holdings encompassing 11,500 acres in the northern part of the Valley. Boyce, who died of cancer in 2016, had proposed a similar water export project.
Accompanying Tonner were RWR attorney Kevin Kinnear and Jerry Berry, who manages the RWR property and has been farming in the northern part of the Valley since 1996. Berry said he has been part of the Moffat community most of his life, serving on the school board there and on the RGWCD Sub-district #4 board.
Tonner said RWR wants to partner with the water district in identifying the best sources of water to provide the one-for-one replacement for the 22,000-acre-foot export while meeting the water district’s goals of reducing irrigated acreage and bringing balance to the hydrology of the Valley. The project would budget $60 million for that water acquisition.
Tonner said RWR estimates water could be purchased at about $2,000 an acre foot, depending on the water rights. RWR will be purchasing both surface water and groundwater, he said.
Berry said there are local residents interested in selling their water.
RGWCD Board Member Peggy Godfrey added she would not be surprised that there were people in the northern part of the Valley willing to sell their water, because they have not been able to use it to the full extent they should have been able to, and what RWR could offer them might help them afford to continue doing what they love to do.
Tonner said RWR would rather work with the water district than have an adversarial relationship. He said this project would return “one for one plus”, making up for the 22,000 acre feet that would be exported, “plus” for a total of 30,000-35,000 acre feet. In addition, RWR would set up a $50 million community fund…
Water would be piped from the Valley, with the buyers footing the bill for that pipeline, Tonner said. He added that RWR was requiring the buyers to limit the size of the pipe to no more capacity than the 22,000 acre feet.
He said currently the estimated cost of building the pipeline is $550-600 million.
RGWCD Board President Greg Higel said he doubted that Aurora and Castle Rock would want to build a pipeline just for 22,000 acre feet of water, and if it were constructed for more water, “that’s the beginning of the end.”
Tonner said the partners have been clear about the pipeline restrictions and the sellers are fine with it.
“Honestly, that’s hard for me to believe,” Higel said.
RGWCD Board Member Cory Off, who extensively questioned the RWR representatives, asked how long it would take to capitalize a project of this magnitude, and Tonner said “roughly five years.”
Regarding the project timeline, Tonner estimated close to 10 years “start to finish.”
Tonner said partners have been working on this proposal for about four years and hope to file something in water court in 2019 but would be fine with it taking longer if necessary. He said those involved have been working with individuals on both sides of the hill — potential waters sellers in the San Luis Valley and potential water buyers in the Denver metro area.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive, but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry up.
Million, a Fort Collins-based entrepreneur, has pushed different versions of the pipeline for more than a decade, and the number of killed ideas and revisions has earned the project the nickname, the “Zombie Pipeline.”
Now seeking water rights from the Green River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty, growing population.
While Million’s proposal has drawn criticism from environmental groups and government agencies, some Front Range water suppliers have expressed interest in water from the pipeline.
The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley and serving Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, has re-affirmed its interest in the project, which it first expressed in 2009.
And the state of Colorado has taken a neutral stance.
Million, under the banner of a new business, Water Horse Resources LLC, is now proposing a project that would divert 55,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Green River in eastern Utah, below Flaming Gorge Reservoir near Brown’s Park and above Dinosaur National Monument. (See application and map, and click to zoom in on map).
An acre foot of water is roughly equivalent to a foot of water covering an entire football field, and enough to satisfy two small families’ yearly demands.
With 55,000 acre feet, the project, if it ever comes to fruition, could serve 110,000 families each year. It could also satisfy more than 10,000 acres of flood-irrigated farmland.
The water, up to 76 cubic feet per second, would travel in a pipeline that heads northeast out of Utah, cuts across a corner of Colorado, traverses 500 miles through Wyoming and over a low point in the Continental Divide, and then drops back into Colorado.
Because the pipeline would ultimately descend about 3,800 vertical feet, the water could power turbines that would generate about 70 megawatt hours of power per year.
For the project’s second phase, Million hopes to build pumped-storage facilities, which could fill with water during the day when energy is in low demand and release water through a turbine when demand is high, generating an additional 500 to 1,000 Mwh of power annually.
Front Range interest
The project’s opponents have pointed out problems for endangered fish, recreation and water availability. To bolster their claims many have pointed out that Million has yet to reveal a buyer for his water, and say that’s evidence that there is no interest in Green River water in Colorado.
But Million claims to have a buyer on the Front Range interested in purchasing the entire water supply, and other Front Range water providers have expressed their willingness to consider water from the pipeline.
For his water rights application, Million presented 17 letters of interest to Utah’s state engineer. Most of these letters were from a different pipeline application in 2010, but there was one from January from the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, or CCWCD.
The CCWCD serves about 550 farmers, but because the district is short of water, it is able to make only about half of its deliveries.
In November, voters passed a $48.7 million bond issue for the district to buy new supplies, and the CCWCD said it would consider water from a Flaming Gorge pipeline.
“I think it’s false that there is no interest for additional water supplies,” said Randy Ray, the district’s executive director, in a recent interview. “Our board is supportive of any methods to bring water to our area. We will evaluate just about everything.”
According to Million’s testimony before the State of Utah’s Division of Water Rights on Nov. 11 the CCWCD has joined his project’s advisory board.
“They have a huge demand-supply imbalance on the South Platte in Colorado they are looking at,” Million said.
Birth of a concept
One night in 2003, Million stumbled across an old map in the library at Colorado State University, where he was a graduate student in resource economics.
He focused on the northwest corner of the state where the Green River comes down from Wyoming into Utah and then comes in and out of Colorado in a sweeping oxbow before traveling down to meet the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.
Free from the clutter of roads, this 1920s map made the thick, blue squiggle so obvious that it suddenly gave Million an idea to bring that water to the Front Range.
“I thought that surely someone had thought about that,” Million said.
The project became his master’s thesis and, later, a proposal for a real project. The original concept looked at importing nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water from a point of diversion in Wyoming.
He filed applications for different versions of his concept under the companies Million Conservation Resource Group Inc. and Wyco Power and Water Inc. Both applications were dismissed by government agencies for a lack of information earlier this decade.
The new plan scales back the amount of water to be drawn from the river and includes an emphasis on hydropower along with water delivery.
The company has not released a detailed cost estimate to the public, but Million says estimates range from $860 million to $1.1 billion. He also says private consultants have put the project’s ultimate value at more than $30 billion.
With these new pieces in place, Million believes this project has a better chance, but he’s facing opposition on many fronts, permit challenges and a daunting environmental-impact study.
Interest in the water?
Million’s latest filing for water rights in Utah, in January, drew 28 protest letters, from environmental groups, concerned citizens and water districts, as well as from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Interior.
A Nov. 7 hearing on the proposal in Utah led to a headline in the Salt Lake City Tribune that said, “Environmentalists, feds, and Utahns agree: Don’t send Green River water to Colorado.”
Many of the presentations against the water project cast doubt on whether there was even any water in the Colorado River system left to take.
“If you’re going to develop more water, you are going to threaten current uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, which opposes the project. “This might be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Still, the most common concern was that Million had not released a signed contract that showed someone would buy the project’s water.
At the project’s water-rights hearing at the Utah state engineer’s office in November, several groups pointed to fields on Million’s application where the purpose and place of use were left as “TBD,” or to be determined.
“That just smacks of speculation,” said Ariel Calmes, a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, which is also opposing the project.
“This is a water grab,” Calmes said. “It’s not a reasonably thought-out plan to get water resources to benefit a specific community.”
But while Million and his team have struggled against public backlash and weathered claims that there was no interest in Green River water, other water entities in Colorado have quietly picked up his idea.
In 2006, just as Million was getting his initial idea off the ground, the South Metro Water Supply Authority — a group of water suppliers south of Denver — launched studies for an almost identical project, and another group near Colorado Springs released a study into a Flaming Gorge pipeline in 2013.
The governor’s water advisers also took note of Million’s plan, and Colorado’s 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative included a Flaming Gorge pipeline as one of four possibilities for new water supplies for the state.
That same report found that the South Platte Basin, which includes all of northeastern Colorado, would need as much as 330,000 acre-feet more water to meet demand projections by 2050.
While the state has not come out firmly in support of Million’s project, the Colorado Water Conservation Board said in a July 7 letter that it did not oppose the Utah application. The letter indicated that the Colorado state engineer would need to weigh in on the proposal if the Utah water rights were secured.
Million is quick to swat away arguments that his project is speculative, noting that water demand in Colorado has only grown since he first conceived of the pipeline. He also claims an entity with “large ranching and municipal interests” has already agreed to take all the water at a specific price.
He also said he is in preliminary conversations about a power-purchase agreement for the renewable energy that the pipeline would generate.
Due to continuing negotiations and a nondisclosure agreement, Million said he would not reveal either of the two interested parties at this time.
But scrutiny of Million’s latest plan is increasing.
On the water horse
On Dec. 10, the Utah state engineer’s office requested additional information from Million to evaluate his application.
The request asked Million to prove that water was available in the Colorado River system and that water taken from his pipeline would come from Colorado, not Utah’s, share of the river.
The requests also sought further proof of feasibility, but did not request additional proof of demand or a contract for the purchase of the pipeline’s water.
Water Horse Resources has until Feb. 8 to supply the new information.
Million is confident that his project, this time around, will move forward. He says the protests and the noise from the public don’t get to him anymore.
“You saddle the horse,” he said, “You do what you think is right and you move on with it.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Greeley Tribune on coverage of regional water issues. The Tribune published a version of this story on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The possibility of using existing pipelines rather than having to build new ones entirely is one tack Million is taking in arguing in favor of the economic feasibility of his idea.
Financial viability is one of the issues that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones is pressing Million on as Million pursues a Utah water right for the project.
Jones heads the Utah Division of Water Rights, which last month heard from Million and numerous project opponents before deciding that it needed more information from Million.
On Dec. 10, Jones wrote to Million, asking for a detailed engineering cost-estimate for conveying the water to the Front Range that demonstrates the cost would be physically and economically feasible.
Million said Monday that he can’t speak in details about possible use of existing infrastructure due to a nondisclosure agreement, but said several pipelines cross the Green River at his proposed diversion point, and an existing pipeline goes to north of Greeley…
In his letter, Jones also asks Million for information on why Jones should believe there is water available, physically and under interstate Colorado River compacts, for diversion. Jones pointed to existing downstream water rights and approved applications to appropriate water, endangered-fish needs, and potential federal reserved water rights for Indian tribes and for national parks, monuments and recreation areas…
“This information is being requested since the state engineer has already established by policies adopted for this area a belief that the amount of water proposed under the application is not available for beneficial use as your application proposes,” Jones wrote to Million.
Million said a recent federal environmental review found a surplus of water beyond environmental, recreation and other needs in the stretch of the Green River where he proposes his diversion, upstream of where it is replenished by the Yampa River.
Million said his understanding is that Utah is concerned that a proposed pipeline project from Lake Powell would use some of its remaining compact allocation.
But he said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a surplus available for other states, and his project would count against Colorado’s allocation.