“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give” –WestSlopeWater.com #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

That theme of cooperation, including striking a balance between consumption and conservation, quickly rose to the surface Friday, as members of the whitewater, conservation and political communities met at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs to discuss the future of state water policy.

“To the best of our ability, we don’t want it to be West Slope against East Slope, “ said Heather Lewin, watershed action director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy. “We want to be working together to understand where water comes from, and how to use it most efficiently … so that we can do the best we can for the people who live here and for the environment.”

Members of the environmental group Conservation Colorado hosted the confab, which was set to coincide with Colorado River Day. The discussion largely revolved around local water issues and the recent release of the draft Colorado Water Plan. As water levels dwindle throughout the West, Colorado is formulating its first state water plan…

A benefit of the state effort is that many interest groups have gotten together to discuss the issue, creating new partnerships that before may never have been possible, said Kristin Green, Front Range field manager for Conservation Colorado.

“I think it’s important to recognize the diversity of holders we do have in this state, particularly in this area, that feel very direct effects from how we are managing our rivers,” she said. “Now more than ever we need to make sure all those different voices are being heard.”

More than 24,000 comments have been made concerning the draft water plan, and the public comment period doesn’t end until Sept. 17, Green said.

She noted that the second draft of the water plan begins to delve into potential solutions, and suggests a conservation goal of saving 400,000 acre feet by 2050. It’s the start of establishing the criteria officials may want to discuss, she said.

“There definitely was more meat on the bones,” Green said of the second draft…

Roaring Fork watershed increases 
quality of the Colorado

Lewin said that while the Roaring Fork River may be a small component of the overall Colorado River Basin, it still contributes around 1 million acre feet of water to the larger river each year.

She said the quality and quantity of that water can be very significant farther downstream in both an ecological sense and for its value to industries, municipalities and agriculture. But diversions strain that resource.

“Having high-quality water in the Roaring Fork makes a big difference of the water quality overall in the Colorado,” Lewin said.

She added that the river’s gold medal fishing designation is a huge economic boost to the valley. That lofty standard is met when there are at least 60 pounds of trout per acre of water, including at least 12 fish that are 14 inches or longer.

“That’s a lot of fat fish,” Lewin said. “But [keeping] those fish growing fat, healthy and swimming doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

These conditions occur when a river or stream consists of clean water, and is home to an abundant insect population and a healthy riparian area. Lewin said surrounding riparian areas provide shade to cool river temperatures; food for aquatic creatures; erosion control; and help to filter pollutants.

“As you increase development, and as we diminish stream flows, riparian vegetation becomes one of the first things to really suffer,” she said. “So it’s hard to regenerate cottonwoods without overbanking flows. Cottonwoods are a key part to that riparian vegetation piece.”

Lewin said the recent wet spring led to the term “miracle May,” a month with a huge amount of precipitation that helped make up for a dry and warm winter. The heavy flows also helped to clear out sediment that built up in areas of the Roaring Fork.

“One of the biggest transmountain diversions out of the basin, the Independence Pass Tunnel, was shut down for nearly two months,” she said (that was because the East Slope had ample water supplies). “It just started operations about a week ago or so. By closing down that tunnel we were able to really see the full effects of the spring flushing flow and the benefits to the river.”

Lewin added that old oxbows in the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen were again filled with water this spring, putting the wetland area in a more natural state.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy has also engaged residents in the Crystal River Valley to work on addressing low stream flows. That effort has focused on looking at best practices to manage diversions and return flows, and studying the area’s physical features.

“We’re trying to see if we can use all of those pieces together in cooperation with the people who live on and around the river, and use that water to do the best we can for the Crystal,” Lewin said.

Dean Moffatt, a local architect, inquired about efforts to bestow the federal “Wild and Scenic” designation and its protections on the Crystal River.

“As an organization, we’re certainly supportive of the process,” Lewin replied. “We think that it’s really important and has the potential to be really beneficial.”[…]

‘No more water to give’

Aron Diaz, a Silt town trustee, said there’s a lot of interest among local leaders in the Colorado Water Plan.

“We’re really in a unique position and have the opportunity to craft Colorado’s water policy at the larger state level,” he said. “But we need to keep in mind how that affects the Western Slope.”

Diaz said the biggest point of concern is that Front Range basins are still adding placeholders, indicating that they may need more West Slope water to meet demands.

“We’re pretty tapped out for the amount of water that we have available to us,” he said. “Both with our obligations to stakeholders along the Colorado and those environmental, recreational, agricultural, industrial, municipal needs … as well as our downstream obligations with the compact, we’re really at the limit.”

There’s a need to set “achievable, but very aggressive conservation goals” to assure every avenue is studied before looking at new diversions, Diaz said. He urged the public to visit westslopewater.com to sign a petition that will be delivered to Gov. Hickenlooper and Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund. It requests that no new diversions of water be made to the Front Range…

“The Western Slope in Colorado has no more water to give. We, the undersigned western Colorado residents, strongly urge you to oppose any new trans-mountain diversion that will take more water from the Western Slope of Colorado, as you develop Colorado’s Water Plan,” the petition states. “We cannot solve our state’s future water needs by simply sending more water east.”

Mountain Town News: Water, water, water on the brains everywhere — Allen Best

May 1, 2015 Colorado streamflow forecast map via the NRCS
May 1, 2015 Colorado streamflow forecast map via the NRCS

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best) via the Summit Daily News:

In Colorado, snowpack this winter was about average in the Blue River Basin, which is where Breckenridge, Keystone, and several other ski areas are located. “Everybody has Blue River envy,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, at a recent meeting covered by the Summit Daily News.

Blue River’s snowpack will soon fill Dillon Reservoir, one of the main reservoirs for metropolitan Denver. However, endangered fish in the Colorado River downstream near the Utah border won’t fare so well, because of less snowpack in the other tributary basins. Peak flows must be at least 12,900 cubic feet per second; they’re expected to peak at 9,600 cfs.

Taking a broader view, Kuhn sees this time in the 21st century as one of transition. “After 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more, we’re going to have to cut back our uses.”

Kuhn pointed to the declining water levels in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two giant “buckets” on the Colorado River. “Bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained,” he said, a distinct possibility in the next few years, particularly at Lake Mead.

What about building a pipeline to the Mississippi River or some other water-rich location? “To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

2015 Colorado legislation: HB15-1167 (South Platte River Mainstem Storage Study)

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia
South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

HB15-1167 is up for hearing tomorrow in the House Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources committee. The bill is the brainchild of J. Paul Brown representing District 59 down in southwestern Colorado. It would direct the CWCB to study the feasibility of new mainstem storage on the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. It also directs the CWCB to utilize existing studies of the possibility of pumping water from the Missouri River Basin back to Colorado. I suppose he’s talking about the USACE’s alternative to Aaron Million’s pipeline from the Green River or the Kansas Aqueduct project.

The bill calls out the Narrows Dam Project (650,000 AF) that was authorized by the US Congress but never built for a number of reasons, most of which would be faced by any new mainstem project.

Senator Sonnenberg shows up as the Senate sponsor.

Here’s what Representative Brown had to say on the subject in the Pagosa Daily Post:

My time in the legislature is challenging and exciting. I am working hard on my bills as well as keeping up on my committee bills and the bills that come to the floor. I actually have a little advantage over other legislators in that my apartment is half a block from the Capitol, so all of my time, when I am not sleeping, showering, or attending receptions, is spent reading and preparing for action on bills.

My number one issue is water storage and primarily storage in the South Platte drainage in Colorado. Why on the South Platte? Because that is the one drainage on the eastern side of Colorado that regularly has water that leaves the state that can legally be stored and used in Colorado. When I was in the legislature in 2011 and 2012 I started paying attention to the water in the South Platte Basin that was leaving the state. There were two years in particular where over 1,000,000 acre feet per year were wasted, another where 600,000 acre feet left the state, and even today there is excess water running out of the state that could be used to augment other water needs in Colorado. If we could store that water, it would help to satisfy the demand on the Front Range and relieve the need to send water from the Western Slope to the more populated Eastern side of the Continental Divide.

For the past many years I have been learning all I can about water, water law, water compacts with other states, and everything else related to water that I could possibly learn. I started at a young age when my parents were paid to measure the water at the Colorado/New Mexico state line on the La Plata River South of Hesperus, Colorado. On most early mornings before I caught the bus for school I would measure the amount of water in the river. That information was then relayed to the water authorities in both states where ditches were closed or opened depending on their priority. I have monitored Governor Hickenlooper‚s „water plan‰ and have attended as many Water Roundtable meetings as I could possibly make. I have attended the Colorado Water Congress meetings amongst the most knowledgeable water lawyers and providers in Colorado.

I still have much to learn.

Everywhere I go I have asked folks about storage on the South Platte. The more I have learned, the more it became evident that all of the information needed to make good decisions on where and how to store water was scattered in many different places. I decided that it was necessary to pull all of that information together and that the easiest way to do so is to run a bill. That bill is HB15- 1167. It will be heard in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee upon adjournment on the 18th of February.

More 2015 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Draft conceptual diversion deal presented to West Slope water interests — Aspen Journalism

Informational graphic screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism
Informational graphic screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A draft seven-point framework that lays out conditions for a potential new transmountain diversion in Colorado was explained Thursday in Grand Junction to the members of four Western Slope water-planning roundtables.

About 75 members of the four roundtables heard Bruce Whitehead, a member of the Interbasin Compact Committee, describe in relatively plain terms a “draft conceptual agreement” the committee reached in June on how to possibly move more water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

“This is conceptual,” said Whitehead, who serves on the Southwest Basin roundtable. “We haven’t sold the ranch, and I don’t think, intend to. It was really to set up a dialogue about, yes, go ahead and say it, transmountain diversions. What are the pros? What are the cons? How do we meet Colorado’s gap in the future?”

Whitehead said the seven-point framework had moved the discussion about a new transmountain diversion past the water-planning euphemism “new supply.”

“The term ‘new supply’ had been used a lot,” Whitehead said. “And folks on the Western Slope, obviously, are a little sensitive about new supply. I’ve heard it stated that it might be new supply to somebody else but it’s not really a new supply.”

Sawyer Creek diversion via Aspen Journalism
Sawyer Creek diversion via Aspen Journalism

The 7-Points, in the draft water plan

The 27-member Interbasin Compact Committee serves as something of an executive committee for the nine basin roundtables. Its mission includes developing new water storage and providing a framework for negotiations between the roundtables.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency charged with planning for the state’s water needs, oversees both the committee and the roundtables.

On Dec. 10, the agency presented a draft Colorado water plan to Gov. John Hickenlooper. The plan includes the committee’s seven-point “draft conceptual agreement.”

Whitehead explained that the committee members were polled at a meeting in June using a clicker system, and all of them endorsed the statement, “I agree that the draft conceptual agreement is ready to go the water conservation board for consideration while we continue to get feedback from our roundtables and constituencies and the public.”

“So it is not a done deal,” Whitehead said. “And I know there’s even been some things in the newspaper here recently that agreements have been cut, that a deal’s been done, and that’s not the case.”

Members of both the Colorado River Basin and the Gunnison River Basin roundtables recently expressed dismay that a perception had been created that an agreement on a new transbasin has been reached.

“Our last roundtable meeting in November was a very emotional, heartfelt meeting where we discussed the seven points,” said Louis Meyer, a member of the Colorado roundtable. “We are the donor basin. There are currently 15 major transmountain diversions diverting between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet out of our basin.”

At their November meeting, the Colorado roundtable members unanimously adopted a motion stating that “it would be premature and inappropriate” to include the seven points in the Colorado water plan.

“We’re not saying they don’t belong in Colorado’s water plan; we’re saying they are not ready yet,” Meyer said at Thursday’s meeting, which also was attended by another 75 or so members of the public and Colorado’s professional water community. “They need a lot more discussion.”

The first and perhaps most significant of the seven points states that “the eastern slope is not looking for firm yield from a new transmountain diversion project and would accept hydrologic risk for that project.”

“I think the (Interbasin Compact Committee) has acknowledged that in high-water years, and at high levels of storage, there is probably some water left to develop in the Colorado River system,” Whitehead said of the first point. “In very low years, as in the previous 14 or 15 years we’ve just seen, there may not be.”

Whitehead said the third point, concerning “triggers” that might force a new transmountain diversion to divert less water, was about managing a potential “compact call” from California and other lower-basin states. Such a call could force junior water-rights owners in Colorado and other upper-basin states to stop diverting water.

“If it looks like we’re going to be headed toward compact curtailment of some kind, then they shouldn’t divert and increase that risk,” Whitehead said of a new diversion. “What those triggers are hasn’t been fully defined.”

The fourth point calls for an “insurance policy” for existing junior water rights, and raises the question of how much more water should be diverted from the state’s west-flowing rivers in the face of a looming compact call.

“Obviously, any development is going to increase the risk,” Whitehead said. “In my mind, 2 acres of irrigation on the Animas River that has a fairly small depletion is a bit of a different animal than a 100,000 acre-foot diversion. So how do we handle that? Is there a de minimus amount that we could agree to that would allow for some future uses on the Western Slope while trying to minimize that risk?”

Most of the basin roundtables are set to meet in January, and the Interbasin Compact Committee, which has not met since June, is slated to meet Jan. 28. A final version of the Colorado water-supply plan is due in December 2015.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Robbing our groundwater savings accounts for today’s needs — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state water engineer, recently defined “sustainable groundwater supply” as one that is managed so that recharge matches withdrawals in a way to avoid long-term depletion of the aquifer.

By that definition, Colorado is not, for the most part, using its aquifers sustainably. Nor, for that matter, is most of the nation or world.

That much was made clear at a conference on Dec. 4 that was conducted by the American Ground Water Trust. Andrew Stone, the organization’s executive director, said 14 percent of all water used to irrigate crops in the United States comes from mining groundwater aquifers. This started slowly, but picked up as pumps and cheap energy became available around the end of World War II. The extraction by farmers and cities of water above the rate of recharge is now close to 400 cubic kilometers.

“We are robbing our savings account,” he said.

Driven by population growth and the uncertain effects of climate change, pressures on these subterranean savings accounts will only worsen, he said. This is not inevitable. He cited Los Angeles, which after World War II turned to groundwater exploitation to satisfy growth. “In the 1960s, it was pretty clear that the LA Basin was cruising for big trouble,” he said. But unsustainable exploitation has ended.

Problems of groundwater exploitation are common in many areas of the country, but solutions must be forged locally, “aquifer by aquifer, region by region,” said Stone.

Sobering statistics

The day was littered with fascinating statistics. Jeff Lukas, of the Western Water Assessment, explained that of the 95 million acre-feet that falls on Colorado, only 14 million acre-feet end up as runoff in our streams and rivers. The remainder, 80 million acre-feet, evaporates or gets drawn back into the atmospheric through transpiration. Together, the two are called evapotranspiration, or ET.

This rate of ET will almost certainly rise as the atmosphere warms. In the last 30 years, temperatures have ratcheted up 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate models forecast another increase of between 2.5 to 5 degrees by mid-century in Colorado. By mid-century, the hottest summers of the last 50 to 100 years will become the norm.

Too, everything from corn to urban lawns will need 5 to 30 percent more moisture during the longer, hotter summers—assuming precipitation does not increase.

How much precipitation will change as the result of elevated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere remains a mystery. Unlike temperatures, average precipitation in Colorado has not changed appreciably in the last three decades. Climate models have been clear about increasing temperatures, but precipitation remains a flip of the coin.

However, warming alone will drive changes, “pushing both the supply and demand in the wrong direction,” said Lukas. Increased evapotranspiration will reduce runoff and the amount of moisture available to percolate into soils and down into aquifers. Spring runoff has already accelerated and will come one to three weeks earlier.

Bottom line: Hotter temperatures will drive farmers to suck up more subterranean water. If anything, aquifers will recharge more slowly.

Wolfe, in his turn at the microphone, had even more statistics: Of Colorado’s 16 million acre-feet, 10 million acre-feet flow out of state, mostly as a result of compacts governing the Colorado and other rivers.

“That leaves us about 6 million acre-feet in Colorado to use,” he said. This surface water provides about 83 percent of water used in Colorado, and the other 17 percent comes from aquifers, which are tapped by 270,000 wells.

Of this groundwater, 85 percent goes to agriculture, for more than 2 million acres, but there’s also a strong urban component. One in five Coloradans get their water from wells. Most prominent are Denver’s southern suburbs in Douglas County.

Denver’s South Metro

South Metro has been a poster child for living in the moment. It’s affluent and rapidly growing. Served almost exclusively by wells, the residents of Castle Park, Parker and adjoining areas comprise about 6 percent of Colorado’s population but command 30 percent of income. Today’s population of 300,000 residents is projected to grow to 550,000 by mid-century.

Wells have been dropping rapidly, five feet in just one year in Dawson, one of the aquifers.

Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, explained that it was always understood that wells would not last forever. The area had hoped to benefit from Denver’s Two Forks Dam, which was to have been filled primarily by expanded diversions from the Western Slope.

Two Forks was sunk by environmental concerns in the early 1990s. Inconveniently, Douglas County surged in population, routinely landing in the top 10 of the nation’s fastest-growing counties, a distinction that only lately has abated.

Other projects have also nudged the South Metro area off its exclusive dependence on groundwater, but even collectively they do not provide the answer. Hecox called for continued efforts to pinpoint needs while creating a new generation of partnerships and infrastructure.

Can South Metro’s needs for sustainable water supplies be answered by building a giant pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Utah-Wyomng border? That idea was proposed in 2006 by entrepreneur Aaron Million, and then echoed by Frank Jaeger, the now-retired director of Parker Water and Sanitation District.

Hecox said the Bureau of Reclamation study about water availability from Flaming Gorge has not been completed. That study will provide the 14 members in Hecox’s South Metro coalition “base information on which to decide whether we want to pursue it any further,” he said.

Two key agriculture areas

Two agriculture areas in Colorado that rely upon aquifers are in arguably worse shape. The San Luis Valley has an area called the Closed Basin. With the arrival of electricity to farms in the 1950s, large-scale pumping began and, for a number of years, all went well, said Steve Vandiver, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District.

Despite earlier hints of problems, the magnitude of over-pumping started becoming apparent in 1998. One million acre-feet had been pumped from the aquifer above the amount of recharge. Figuring out what to do took time and negotiation. “There have been rocks thrown from every quarter,” he said.

The plan now in place has cut pumping by 30 percent during the last three years. The amount of irrigated acreage has declined from 175,00 to 150,000 acres. Water use on those remaining acres has been reduced in some cases by planting different, less water-intensive crops and also by using different irrigation methods.

Up to 300,000 cubic feet per second of water continues to be pumped on the fields in the Closed Basin on hot summer days.

And the Ogallala….

The Ogallala Aquifer is perhaps America’s best-known story of groundwater depletion. It extends over parts of eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, and the aquifer has declined at a shocking rate in several of those states, but more slowly or not at all in places, especially the Nebraska Sand Hills.

The Republican River Basin of northeastern Colorado is emblematic of many. Farmers working with local districts and the state government have been shifting the paradigm. Whether they’re shifting rapidly enough is an open question.

The river and its tributaries originate on the high plains, gaining no benefit from mountain snowpack. Yet this region had 480,000 irrigated acres in an area where annual precipitation is only 17 inches a year.

The key: mining the Ogallala. In the late 1970s, Colorado began taking action to slow the unsustainable over-pumping, but more radical measures were triggered by the need to comply with the interstate compact governing the river shared with Nebraska and Kansas. Colorado was forced to release more water downstream.

It did this partly by abandoning Bonny Reservoir, eliminating the evaporative losses. At greater expense, the district constructed an expensive pipeline and now pumps water—ironically from wells—to release into the Republican River at the state line. The total cost of the pipeline and the purchase of water rights was $48 million.

Much is being done to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg of exhausted aquifer water, but Deb Daniel, general manager of the Republican River Water Conservation District, suggested the magnitude of the challenge when she said: “Sustainable, that’s a scary word where I come from.”

(For a story I recently wrote about the Ogallala in Colorado, see the Headwaters Magazine website).

Wells along the South Platte

Unlike everything else said in the day, several speakers argued that not enough pumping has been occurring along the South Platte River. Their solution: more reservoirs and also more acreage returned to production.

Robert A. Longenbaugh, a consulting water engineer, pointed to 400,000 acre-feet average annually flowing into Nebraska above the compact requirement. “I call that a waste of water,” he said. At the same time, he and others pointed to reports of basements in Weld County getting flooded because of rising groundwater levels.

Even in the 1960s, a Colorado law was adopted that formally recognized that aquifers and surface streamflows comingled waters . In other words, if you have a well a quarter-mile from the South Platte River at Greeley and pump it, that might mean less water in the river as it flows toward Fort Morgan.

The drought of 2002 forced the issue, and in 2006 the state put well irrigators into the priority system. In 2012, a hot and dry year, many wells had to be shut down and corn and other corps left to dry up. Longenbaugh called for changes.

“Strict priority administration of ground and surface rights does not maximize the beneficial use,” he declared. Instead, he wants to se a “real-time management of the South Platte, to monitor surface and ground water and “make short-term decisions” looking out six months ahead while still maintaining the priority-appropriation doctrine that is the bedrock of Colorado water law.

A panel of state legislators later in the day acknowledged varying degrees of agreement with Longenbaugh’s statement. Sen. Mary Hodge, a Democrat from Brighton, described a pendulum that went from “too lax” to now one of being “too stringent.”

Sen. Vicki Marble, a Republican from Fort Collins, described the situation as deserving of an “emergency measure.” She later added: “We should let people self-regulate,” while suggesting that the wells should be allowed to pump. “It’s their right,” she said.

More groundwater coverage here.

Will Front Range growth trump river health? — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Climate change might not be the end-all, be-all in the state’s water discussion, but Brad Udall knows it needs to at least be a part of it.

“The proper way to deal with climate change is to get out of the scientific battles and deal with it as a risk,” said Udall, who is the director and principal investigator of the University of Colorado-National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Western Water Assessment.

While Colorado isn’t dealing with what Udall says is the biggest climate change impact, sea level rise, it is dealing with impacts of the overall water cycle. The West faces an unprecedented 14-year drought, resulting in low water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, supply-demand gaps, power losses and threats to conservation.

As the atmosphere warms, it also holds more moisture, resulting in water cycle changes. Udall said the effects are already appearing as more rain and less snow, earlier runoff, higher water temperatures and more intense rain.

The higher water temperatures are something that water conservation folks throughout the Western Slope are concerned about. At a recent Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting, Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, introduced to the group a recent assessment of the Upper Colorado River. The study shows that elevated water temperatures are occurring in the Upper Colorado that are above the known thermal tolerance of trout.

Loff said more transmountain diversions out of the basin to the Front Range would only further affect aquatic life, which goes beyond just fish and bugs.

“It impacts everything that uses the riparian area, which is every creature,” Loff said. “Temperature, that is huge. When you take the water out [of the streams for diversions], the water that’s left heats up more. Water temperatures rise, and it completely changes the fish that want to be in that water. Our fishermen are going to see that.”

Loff said she isn’t so quick to join in on the finger-pointing to the Front Range. The Front Range has cut back on wasteful bluegrass lawns, for example, and is doing a great job in terms of per-capita water use.

“They’re actually doing much better than we are” in per-capita water use, she said. “We are all going to have to make some changes.”[…]

[Martha Cochran] points out that agriculture efficiencies could help improve water supplies, but the use-it or lose-it concept hampers progress.

Use-it or lose-it means that a water user who fails to divert the maximum amount of water that their right allows loses some of their rights the next time they go to court to transfer those rights.

“Sprinkling systems for agriculture are more efficient and use less water, they’re easier to control, you can direct them better, they’re more specific about how and when,” Cochran said. “And that’s a good thing, but it’s not [a good thing] if it means you lose your water rights because you’re not using all the water you traditionally used.”[…]

As the state crafts the Colorado Water Plan, one development holds out hope that East and West Slope entities can work together. Just last year, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed between Denver Water and Western Slope water providers and municipalities. The agreement is a long-term partnership that aims to achieve better environmental health in the Colorado River Basin, as well as high-quality recreational use.

The agreement, which included 43 parties from Grand Junction to Denver, states that future water projects on the Colorado River will be accomplished through cooperation, not confrontation. It’s debatable whether that will happen, given the finger-pointing cropping up during the draft stages of the Colorado Water Plan process.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the development of the Colorado Water Plan, believes it can happen, but he admits it won’t be easy.

“The idea is to take that paradigm shift that occurred with the Cooperative Agreement and exploit that and replicate and scale that up to the entire state,” he said. “Doing that is going to require some work.”

But positions like Loff’s that are 100 percent against more transmountain diversion projects are widespread on this side of the Continental Divide, and it’s going to take more than some conversations and a few handshakes to find some middle ground.

“The biggest thing for us, and the entire basin, is that we want to make it perfectly clear that having another transmountain diversion over to the Front Range is really going to damage our recreation-based economy,” she said. “And that it’s going to have more impacts on the environment and on agriculture. They need to understand that we’re not saying we don’t want to share the water, it’s just that there isn’t any more water to share. We have obligations through the compact [to downstream states with legal rights], so more water leaving our basin — that water doesn’t ever come back.”[…]

So that will be part of the process in the coming months as each of the nine basins drafting implementation plans polish up their drafts before sending them off to the state. Two of the Front Range basins, Metro and South Platte, are combining theirs into one document, for a total of eight plans being rolled into the Colorado Water Plan.

It’s like a community development plan that lays out a vision and direction, but it will require execution, said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District.

“Hopefully it will address how we can get down the path of efficiency and the land use discussion,” he said. “It’s a very painful discussion, but not as painful as the need to start digging a new transmountain diversion tomorrow.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

“Want an expert overview on the #COWaterPlan?” — @ConservationCO/@wradv #ColoradoRiver

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

“CONCEPTUAL AGREEMENT” ON FUTURE TRANSMOUNTAIN DIVERSIONS RELEASED
Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee has released a draft conceptual agreement on how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement, which is being circulated for comment, is that the East Slope recognizes that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with back-up non-West Slope sources of water.

The document is available here, and includes an annotated bibliography that summarizes many of the studies, pilot projects and white papers that have been developed over years of debate over how to meet Colorado’s future water needs. Feedback can be submitted via the Colorado’s Water Plan website, which contains draft chapters and information on the individual basin plans that were due at the end of July. The CO legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee is also holding hearings on the plan around the state. See the schedule here.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million still has his eye on the prize #ColoradoRiver

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From the Green River Star (David Martin):

The Aaron Million water project continues on in the form of a request to the Bureau of the Interior. Million’s request, as published in the Federal Register Feb. 12, calls for a standby contract for the annual reservation of 165,000 care-feet of municipal and industrial water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir for a transbasin diversion project…

Mayor Hank Castillon, who is a member of Communities Protecting the Green, said he isn’t sure what Million’s plans are with this latest move. Citing his previous denials from the Army Corp of Engineers and FERC, Castillon said the amount Million wants to use has dropped from the initial 250,000 acre feet of water his project would require. Castillon said he expects a battle to occur between the eastern and western sides of the continental divide. Castillon is aware Cheyenne and other cities in eastern Wyoming need water, along with locations in northern Colorado. The problem they need to address, according to Castillon, is the fact that the water isn’t available…

The Sweetwater County Commissioners commented on Million’s proposal Tuesday, voicing their opposition to the idea. Commissioner Wally Johnson said the transfer of water to Colorado isn’t in Sweetwater County’s best interest, saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s Mr. Million or Mr. Disney” making the proposal. Commissioner John Kolb also voiced his opposition, saying opposition to the idea is unanimous between Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the commissioners themselves.

“I’d like to see us not wasting our time on crazy, hare-brained schemes,” Kolb said. “(Transbasin water diversion) doesn’t work.”

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Continue reading

‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[…]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

‘Keeping the last wild river in the [#ColoradoRiver] Basin intact is important to a healthy environment’ — Susan Bruce

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Here’s a post arguing to keep the Yampa River riparian system as a baseline for a healthy river from Susan Bruce writing for the Earth Island Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

Governor John Hickenlooper’s directive to the Colorado Water Conservation Board earlier this year to create a Colorado Water Plan by 2015 has put the Yampa, which has the second largest watershed in the state, under the spotlight.

Efforts to dam the Yampa go back to the proposed construction of Echo Park Dam, which Congress vetoed in 1952, bowing to a groundswell of public outcry led by David Brower, then with the Sierra Club. But in a compromise he later regretted, Brower supported the construction of two other dams: Glen Canyon on the Colorado River and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. The Green and Yampa rivers used to have similar flows and ecosystems. The construction of the Flaming Gorge Dam in 1962 modified the Green’s hydrograph, reducing sediment flow by half and tapering its seasonal fluctuations to a slower, more consistent flow, opening the way for invasive species like the tamarisk tree to crowd out native ones.

More recently, in 2006, there was a proposal to build a reservoir near Maybell, CO, and pump water from the Yampa to a reservoir about 230 miles away for municipal and agricultural use on the Front Range. But the plan was scrapped due to environmental and cost concerns; the reservoir would have cost between $3 billion and $5 billion.

The oil and gas industry is also eyeing the Yampa. Shell Oil had plans to pump about 8 percent of the Yampa’s high-water flow to fill a 1,000-acre reservoir, but it shelved the proposal in 2010, citing a slowdown of its oil-shale development program. Still, oil production in Colorado is at its highest level since 1957 and gas production at an all-time high. While industrial and municipal water needs are projected to increase with population growth, the largest water user, agriculture, will continue to divert the lion’s share of Colorado’s water, around 80 percent. All of which mean the pressure to suck up Yampa’s water is only going to grow.

The most unique characteristic of the Yampa is its wild and unimpeded flow, in particular the extensive spring flooding that washes away sediment, giving the river its brownish hue. This “river dance” helps establish new streamside forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches, as well as shallows that support species like the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. By late fall, the water barely covers the riverbed in some stretches…

The rafting industry, which contributes more than $150 million to Colorado’s economy, has a strong voice when it comes to the Yampa’s future. Although damming the Yampa would provide a more consistent flow over a longer season, George Wendt – founder of OARS, the largest rafting company in the world – speaks for most outfitters when he says he would rather see the Yampa retain its natural state.

Conservationists also argue that the Yampa’s full flow helps meet Colorado’s legal obligation to provide water to the seven states within the Colorado Basin and Mexico. Measures being considered to protect the Yampa include an instream flow appropriation by the Colorado Water Conservation Board that would reserve Yampa’s water for the natural function of rivers, and a Wild and Scenic River designation by Congress.

Many proponents of keeping the Yampa wild point to its value as a baseline – an ecosystem naturally in balance. “If things go awry on dammed rivers, which they do, we have a control river, so to speak,” says Kent Vertrees of The Friends of the Yampa. “Keeping the last wild river in the Colorado Basin intact is important to a healthy environment and so future generations can experience in situ millions of years of history little changed by man.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum recap

Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Yampa River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

At the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley’s 2013 Yampa Basin Water Forum, [Diane Mitsch Bush] and fellow presenters Kent Vertrees, Kevin McBride and Jay Gallagher talked through the issues and challenges ahead for the state as it races to meet the December 2014 deadline set out by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order for a state water plan draft. Vertrees is a member of the Yampa/White Basin Roundtable, Gallagher represents the Yampa-White River Basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, McBride is on the board of the 2013 Colorado Water Congress, and Mitsch Bush serves on state house committees that oversee water issues. All four represent the interests of the Yampa River Basin in the complicated confluence of water and policy.

Their presentation Monday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library briefed attendees on geology, hydrology and water law as it applies to the Yampa River and Colorado.

The Yampa River, being largely a wild river with a natural hydrograph, is an anomaly among Colorado rivers, and as multiple members of the panel pointed out, that gives the basin a chance to buck the constraints of other basins across the state.

The amount of water in the Yampa River Basin is large compared to other basins, McBride said…

There’s pieces of Colorado water law that would push the Yampa toward developing the same constraints faced in the South Platte River Basin, McBride said, but there’s also opportunity to do something different.

There are many constraints on the future water plan outlined in the presentation, such as highly variable annual flows, climate change, existing water laws and interstate and international agreements, local control and balancing the impact on existing uses and future growth.

There are interests on the Front Range that would look to the Yampa as a reservoir for their needs, Mitsch Bush said, and if consensus can’t be reached with them, the Western Slope will have to stand by its interests…

“Here in Northwest Colorado, we can have that wild river in some ways,” Vertrees said about the best case scenario from the state water plan. “We can have smart storage. We can continue to provide for agriculture needs.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

Communities Protecting the Green is keeping a watchful eye on the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition #ColoradoRiver

Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline -- Graphic via Earth Justice
Conceptual route for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline — Graphic via Earth Justice

From The Green River Star (David Martin):

According to Don Hartley, a member of [Communities Protecting the Green], an organization known as the Colorado Wyoming Coalition is finishing a feasibility study involving the transfer of water from the Flaming Gorge. The coalition was originally known as the Parker Group, after the community in Colorado initially proposing the project, before it rebranded itself. According to a 2011 document titled “Flaming Gorge Investigation Status Report,” the municipal governments in Cheyenne and Torrington, along with the Laramie County government, are involved the coalition’s study to move water from the gorge to eastern Wyoming and northern Colorado.

The document states more than half a million people living in both states would be served by the project.

“It’s kind of slow right now, but things could get interesting once that study is completed,” Hartley said.

Hartley believes the study could be completed within a matter of weeks and said they need to be vigilant with the group because they pose the biggest threat to the river.

Hartley said the second issue on the horizon involves a state water plan under construction within the Colorado state government. One of the key issues Hartley and others at Communities Protecting the Green are watching involves the augmentation of the river to provide water to communities in Colorado.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Statewide water plan: ‘I want to hear what pieces are important to you’ — Gail Schwartz

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Here’s a guest column about Colorado’s water plan, written by State Senator Gail Schwartz running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Senator Schwartz has been in the middle of water legislation for most of her time in the state legislature. Here’s an excerpt:

The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The governor’s executive order detailed that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The CWCB will incorporate the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and nine Basin Roundtables recommendations to address regional long-term water needs.

As chair of the interim Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC), I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The 10-member WRRC comprises legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda as we are charged to review water issues and propose legislation. The WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the CWCB in development of the State Water Plan…

As charged, the water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency both at the municipal/industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus. A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water-related issue. Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013, I sponsored SB13-19 which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the State Water Plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.

Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to you.

More statewide water plan coverage here.

Statewide water plan: ‘We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do’ — Max Schmidt

newsupplydevelopmentconceptcwcb2013.jpg

State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.

Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.

The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.

Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.

“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”

The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.

Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.

The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.

The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.

Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.

Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.

The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.

Statewide Water Plan coverage here.

Move water from west to east or dry up agriculture?

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Hannah Holm recaps the Gunnison Roundtable discussion of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline in this column running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

One reliable way to rile up a room full of western Coloradans is to start talking about moving water from the Colorado River basin (“our water”) east across the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities. You’ll hear lots of muttering, and someone will probably say something to the effect that not one more drop should go over while a blade of bluegrass remains in the Denver metro area.

It doesn’t even have to be water that resides in Colorado to get people’s backs up, as was demonstrated by the reaction to a proposal floated by entrepreneur Aaron Million to pump water from the Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwestern Wyoming east along the I-80 corridor and then south to a reservoir near Pueblo. In September 2011, billboards sprouted up along I-70 protesting providing funding to even study the idea. The billboards were funded by environmental organizations, but a host of resolutions approved by the City of Grand Junction, Mesa County and others roundly condemned the proposed project as well.

However, if Front Range cities can’t take water from our side of the hill, they have to look elsewhere — and that usually means “buying and drying” agricultural land. Since western Coloradans tend to like farms, even if they are east of the Divide, this creates a bit of a quandary. While some claim that ramped up conservation could preclude the need for more water transfers, it’s not easy to see how to push conservation far enough to close the 500,000-acre-foot gap between supply and demand that is forecast to afflict the state by 2050 if measures aren’t taken. Besides, if the Front Range has to dry up lawns, we might have to do the same — and that becomes a more complicated conversation.

Despite the billboards and resolutions, the state did fund a committee to study the potential benefits and impacts of the Flaming Gorge proposal. It included representatives from each of Colorado’s major river basins, including many highly skeptical of the proposal as well as potential beneficiaries, and it met once a month for a year. In short order, the committee broadened its mission and ended up developing a series of questions to be addressed for any proposed major movement of water across the Divide, as well as criteria for what would be a “good” project. This report was presented to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable and Gunnison “State of the River” meeting in Montrose June 3.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Colorado River Basin: Recent study by the Bureau of Reclamation highlights future supply problems #coriver

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Here’s a guest column running in The Denver Post, written by Allen Best, that gives an overview of the current state of the Colorado River. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Tow icebergs from Alaska? Pilfer from a tributary of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming? Or, even sneak water from the Snake, boring a 6-mile tunnel from a reservoir near Jackson Hole to the Green River? While it’s sure to make Idaho’s spud farmers cranky, it would help Tucson, Los Angeles and that parched paradigm of calculated risk, Las Vegas.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and everybody else with a megaphone has carefully branded these ideas as improbable or worse. Only slightly more credible is the idea of a pipeline from the Mississippi River. It could originate near Memphis, traverse 1,040 miles and, if reaching Castle Rock, rise 6,000 feet in elevation. Pumping would require a steady 800 megawatts of electricity, or a little more than what the Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo produces.

In theory, this 600,000-acre feet of muddy Mississippi would replace diversions from the Colorado River headwaters between Grand Lake and Aspen. Those diversions range between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet annually. That would leave the creeks and rivers to the whims of gravity and geography, at least until arriving at Las Vegas and other places with growing thirst.
Cheap water? Not exactly: It would cost $2,400 per acre-foot for this Memphis-flavored sludge, assuming the idea isn’t grounded by protests from barge and riverboat operators. (Sometimes they, too, say they need more water.)

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge Task Force: ‘I felt we set the groundwork to move forward’ — Reed Dils

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado still needs to look at projects to bring in new water supplies despite a state water board’s decision last month to put the Flaming Gorge pipeline task force on ice. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable, the main proponent of the task force, still supports dialogue with other state roundtables on the subject and getting the statewide Interbasin Compact Committee to tackle the issue head­-on.

“It’s time we start looking at issues,” said Jeris Danielson, who represents the roundtable on the IBCC. The IBCC has adopted a “four­legged stool” that includes new supply along with identified projects, conservation and agricultural transfers.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board in January voted to suspend funding for the task force, saying the committee was duplicating work assigned to the IBCC. The group began its work in 2011 to determine issues surrounding two proposals to build water pipelines from southwestern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range.

“All of us thought the task force made good progress and had some good discussions on tough issues,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB. “Their thoughts will be folded into other work the CWCB is doing to move forward new­supply discussions.”

“I think the most important thing we did was establish a list of attributes for what constitutes a good project,” said Betty Konarski, a member of the task force.

“I felt we set the groundwork to move forward,” said Reed Dils, a task force member and former CWCB representative. “If we’re ever going to see another large project in the state, it will take the cooperation of all the roundtables.”

Roundtable Chairman Gary Barber, who also sat on the task force, said the group identified an immediate gap in agricultural water needs, and a municipal gap by 2020. It made no recommendation on whether or not to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.

Danielson and Jay Winner, the other basin representative on the IBCC, vowed to press the IBCC to more action at its meeting in March.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

The CWCB plans to roll Flaming Gorge Pipeline analysis in with other IBCC reviews for transmountain diversions #coriver

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Here’s an article from last week that deals with the demise of the Flaming Gorge Task Force. It ran in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and was written by Gary Harmon.

From The River Blog (Jessie Thomas-Blate):

Last year, American Rivers listed the Green River as #2 on our annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, due to the potential impact of this pipeline on the river, the recreation economy, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin…

Recently, a coalition of 700 business owners called Protect the Flows commissioned a poll that found 84% of West Slope residents and 52% of metro Denver-area residents oppose building additional water pipelines across the mountains. In fact, 76% of Colorado residents think that the solution lies in using water in smarter and more efficient ways, with less waste…

The Green River is a paddler’s paradise. In May 2012, Steve Markle with O.A.R.S. told us why paddlers love the Green River so much. Then in August, Matt Rice, our Director of Colorado Conservation, told us about his trip fishing the Green, and the big trout, beautiful scenery, and solitude he found there. Finally, Scott Willoughby with the Denver Post gives a description of the river that makes you jealous if you don’t have easy access to this trout oasis (even if you aren’t an avid fisherman!).

It is no wonder so many people care about preserving adequate water flows in the Green River. It not only provides essential water and cash flow for West Slope towns, but also a great adventure for the citizens of Colorado and beyond.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

CWCB halts funding for phase two of Flaming Gorge Task Force

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A decision by the Colorado Water Conservation Board not to fund the second phase of a Flaming Gorge pipeline task force does not affect either project that wants to bring water into the state. The CWCB Tuesday turned down a $100,000 extension of the committee, saying its efforts duplicate the role of the Interbasin Compact Committee. Alan Hamel, of the Arkansas River basin, was the only member of the CWCB who voted in favor of continuing to fund the task force.

“I was surprised,” said Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, and a member of the task force. “The state still needs to proceed with water planning, but did not approve our approach for moving forward.”

The task force was formed to identify questions that would face any statewide water project, and from the start said it would not endorse or eliminate either of two proposals to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline.

“This decision sends a clear message that the IBCC needs to step up and do something about new water supply,” said Jay Winner, one of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s IBCC representatives.

Environmental groups this week tried to depict the decision as a defeat for Aaron Million’s proposal to build a 500­ mile pipeline from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range. However, Million claimed last week that the neutral decision by the task force was a win for him. He is working on engineering needed to resume federal consideration of the project.

The Colorado-­Wyoming Coalition also is pursuing its version of a Flaming Gorge pipeline, but is still waiting on Bureau of Reclamation studies to determine if it will move forward, said Eric Hecox of the South Metro Water Supply District.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The developer of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline denied Wednesday that the state’s decision to end funding for a group looking at the project would set it back…

Tuesday’s decision to halt funding represented a “critical wound” to the project, Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates said in a statement. Environmentalists oppose the project because they contend it would diminish Green River flows…

Jennifer Gimbel, director of the water board, said the environmentalists’ comments were “misleading.”

The decision “doesn’t reflect the board’s position on the pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it she said. “It doesn’t endorse it; it doesn’t deny it.”[…]

The task force was formed to study issues surrounding the project, not to decide whether the project should move forward. After completing a report on the pipeline, the task force requested $100,000 to study “new supply projects in general” at Tuesday’s water board meeting, Gimbel said.

However, the Interbasin Compact Committee already is studying potential water supply projects, she said…

Aaron Million, principal of Wyco Power and Water Inc., called environmentalists’ characterization of the decision “grossly inaccurate.” The company has proposed building the pipeline to bring water from Wyoming to the Front Range, including Fort Collins.

“One of the reasons I think the environmental community’s been so vocal is that this project has a lot of merit to it,” said Million, who contends the project would add to Poudre River volume.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brett Prettyman):

Charlie Card, northeastern Utah coordinator for Trout Unlimited, says the news from Colorado is good, but he has heard similar news before and knows not to let his guard down when it comes to water in the West.

“Million said about a year ago that in two years he would be ready to submit another proposal and there is another group out of Parker, Colorado, that has asked the Bureau of Reclamation specifically to give them the actual number of acre-feet of water that is available,” Card said. “The report from Colorado is nice, but the threat is far from over.”

Numerous recreational and financial impacts from proposed pipelines pumping water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which sits on the Utah/Wyoming border, or the Green River above it have been revealed by Trout Unlimited and other concerned groups.

Among them:

• Wide fluctuations of water levels at Flaming Gorge would create ideal conditions for noxious weeds along the shore, affecting waterfowl, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, sage grouse and other species. Open shorelines may become inaccessible for recreation.

• Diminished flows on the Green River below the dam will affect species of concern like the northern river otter, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, osprey, Lewis’ woodpecker, southern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo.

• A reduction of flows into the reservoir will inhibit recommended flow levels out of the dam. The recommendations were agreed upon by multiple agencies to benefit endangered fish (razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and bonytail) in the Green River.

• The main sport fish of Flaming Gorge — kokanee salmon, lake trout and smallmouth bass — are already facing a number of challenges in a delicately balanced ecosystem that has been rocked by the recent appearance of illegally introduced burbot. Lower and fluctuating water levels will only add to the challenges.

• Access to the lake via existing boat ramps would likely not be possible if water as proposed in the Million project were removed from the reservoir. That impacts all businesses that rely on the reservoir including those on the shores of Flaming Gorge and including other towns and cities like Dutch John, Manila, Green River, Wyo., and Rock Springs.

Similar facts are presented on the ourdamwater.org/ website of Sportsmen for the Green.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The state’s most powerful water organization will spend no more money to study ways of piping water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, a move heralded by environmental organizations but one that might not squelch the idea. The Colorado Water Conservation Board turned away a request that it continue to fund a study of how to pursue large water projects, such as a proposed pipeline to the Front Range from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming.

The board’s decision was greeted as a victory by Protect the Flows, an organization of recreation, agricultural and other interests that depend on the Colorado River. “This decision tells Coloradans that (Gov. John Hickenlooper) and the water board know how much we value our superb recreation opportunities and the huge economy in Colorado generated by outdoor enthusiasts and tourism,” Protect the Flows spokeswoman Molly Mugglestone said.

Water board members noted that such projects would be more appropriately studied by the Interbasin Compact Committee, a 27-member committee established to address statewide water issues.

The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline has been rejected on several levels and by federal agencies. It was criticized by government agencies, including Mesa County and Grand Junction, which cited unanswered questions about the effects of the project.

The Interbasin Compact Committee “has a new water-supply committee and this seems to belong to them,” said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “I think that’s an important dialogue to have and it’s one we’ve been involved with all along.”

The water board’s decision amounted to an endorsement of the need for conservation over development, Protect the Flows said.

Abandoning talk of water-development projects is a non-starter, Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen said. “Given the drought situation,” Petersen said, “at some level it would seem we would have to talk about storage.”

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

CWCB: ‘Zombie Pipeline’ Takes Critical Wound in Vote — Jason Bane

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From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today voted overwhelmingly to end funding for the ‘Flaming Gorge Task Force,’ which had been considering future large-scale water diversion projects such as the ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline.’ The decision is in line with public opinion; a recent Colorado water poll found that four-in-five Colorado voters favor focusing on water conservation efforts rather than water diversions.

In response to today’s decision, Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates, issued the following statement:

“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been called the ‘zombie pipeline’ from years of lumbering around trying to latch onto anything that might keep it alive. Today’s CWCB vote sends a strong message that it’s time to move on to other water demand solutions. No amount of discussion is going to make the pipeline less expensive or more realistic, and we applaud the CWCB for recognizing the need to move forward.”

The ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) is a proposal to pump 81 million gallons of water a year across more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates has consistently opposed the idea as unreasonable and unnecessary.

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

The task force funding drew criticism from conservation groups, who said the money would be better spent studying realistic conservation and reuse options for water. By some state estimates, the pipeline could have cost as much as $9 billion. The CWCB denied a request for $100,000 of state water money for continued study…

We applaud Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their decision to turn down spending additional money to examine new water diversions as a solution to meet Colorado’s water challenges, said Protect Our Flows director Molly Mugglestone. “It’s the right decision for what Coloradans want as reflected overwhelmingly in a recent bipartisan poll commissioned by Protect the Flows.

The poll showed that more than 80 percent of Colorado voters would tell state officials to spend their time and resources focusing on conservation efforts, rather than water diversions; a majority of voters across political and geographic lines oppose building additional pipelines; and almost all express strong regard for Colorado rivers and a desire to protect them.

[Aaron Million] has said the pipeline could actually help protect flows in over-used sections of the Colorado, especially in years like this, with abundant moisture in Wyoming, but well below average snowpack in Colorado.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge Task Force: ‘I guess neutral is a big win for us’ — Aaron Million

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More state discussions are needed on how to develop Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, a task force that met for more than a year on the Flaming Gorge water project reported Wednesday. The task force did not recommend either building or denying the Flaming Gorge pipeline idea, and wasn’t expected to. Instead, it worked to create a framework that would bring competing interests to the table to evaluate any project proposing development of a new supply from the Colorado River. Its conclusions will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which funded the task force. “I guess neutral is a big win for us,” said Aaron Million, who was one of two sponsors of a Flaming Gorge pipeline who met with the task force last year.

More engineering work is being completed so that the Flaming Gorge project can be resubmitted to a federal agency for environmental evaluation. Million said it would be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rejected an application last year, saying more information was needed. If FERC does not accept the new proposal, either the Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Land Management would be approached.

The task force recommended the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee, an umbrella organization that represents the interests of basin roundtables and the state, develop a way to evaluate if a project meets certain criteria. The top priorities are developing Colorado’s share of the water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and protecting the state from a call on the river that could diminish Colorado’s water supply.

The group recommended forming a committee that would continue to discuss issues relating to water and is asking the CWCB for up to $100,000 for phase 2 of the study. The first phase was funded at $72,000 in September 2011, over the objections of environmental groups who tried to kill any consideration of a Flaming Gorge plan.

More coverage from the Associated Press via the Laramie Boomerang. Here’s an excerpt:

In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee said questions that should be addressed include not only financing and how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river, but also alternatives to new water supply projects.

The committee said state leaders and each of the basin roundtables in Colorado should participate in the conversation, which it called a “key threshold step” needed to move beyond the status quo in developing significant new water supply solutions. The roundtables represent each major river basin in the state, plus the Denver area.

The report, released Wednesday, described an urgent need for action, citing the gap between the demand for water on the populated Front Range and the supply.

“The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous,” the report said.

The report also listed several characteristics of “good” water supply projects. For instance, they should have funding and minimize the need for new infrastructure, and they shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, the report said.

Colorado’s river basin roundtables agreed to form the committee after entrepreneur Aaron Million announced a $3 billion pipeline proposal to carry Flaming Gorge Reservoir water to Colorado, and a separate coalition of water providers said it was exploring its own plan. The committee didn’t set out to endorse any proposal but wanted to answer questions about cost, feasibility, water rights and legalities, along with the environmental, socioeconomics, agricultural and recreational impacts of any Flaming Gorge project, among other issues.

Million has yet to gain permits for his project. He said Thursday his team is doing more engineering work after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year dismissed his permit application over a lack of specifics.

More coverage from the Wyoming Business Journal (MJ Clark):

The committee is aware of protests by environmentalists and issues raised by their own constituency.

“Rather than focusing on a Flaming Gorge project, the committee is exploring what the attributes would be of any successful new transmountain diversion,” the group wrote. “And foremost to that discussion is dealing with the uncertainties of water availability under the Colorado River Compact.”

Noting that the staff could not reach an agreement of whether or not to endorse the project, the group concluded that, “At this point, we don’t see the benefit of having the Flaming Gorge Committee continue … unless the board directs otherwise, this will be the direction staff takes.”

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

Flaming Gorge Task Force’s phase one report is hot off the press

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Click here to view the report and appendices A through F. Click here for appendices G through I. Thanks to Heather Bergman for sending them along in email. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Recommendations

In the course of its work, the Committee has come to more fully understand and appreciate the gravity and risks of the status quo and the need to develop new supply1 solutions that balance the current and future consumptive and nonconsumptive needs of both slopes and all basins. The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous. In the process of becoming informed about and discussing the benefits and costs of a specific new supply project focused around Flaming Gorge, the Committee has identified a key threshold step that must happen in order to move beyond the status quo in developing any significant new supply solution: an immediate and focused conversation with each roundtable and state leaders at the table must begin, aimed at developing an agreement or agreements around how water supply needs around the state can be met. Our conclusion and consensus is that the conversation needs to be transparent and inclusive in order to arrive at consensus agreements that can lead to meaningful statewide-level water supply solutions. The immediate need for this robust, focused, transparent, and balanced conversation is at the heart of each of our recommendations.

The Committee has developed a consensus flow chart that identifies threshold steps and a process framework for moving forward with major new supply allocation from the Colorado River. The flow chart and the process it outlines suggests a pathway to achieving statewide consensus for a new supply project, based on roundtables defining the scope of a project, the IBCC and CWCB providing insight and approval, and project proponents or participants designing a project based on statewide consensus about the criteria of what characteristics and components are needed to be included into the design, implementation, and operation of a water project for that project to be considered a “good” project for Colorado. The flow chart is based on several assumptions:

  • The goal is to minimize the risk of a Compact call.
  • An M&I gap exists and needs to be filled. Some of the water needed to fill that gap may come from the Colorado River. That portion of the gap that is not satisfied by identified projects or processes, conservation, or new supply will likely come from the change of agricultural water to municipal and industrial use.
  • The current legal framework will apply.
  • All roundtables are affected by a new supply project.
  • This process would be voluntary. An inability to complete the process (all STOP signs in the complete framework) means that proponents revert to “business-as-usual” for building a new project.
  • More coverage from KUGR News:

    A task force studying issues related to proposals to divert water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado says state leaders first need to agree on how Colorado’s water needs can be met. In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee says questions that should be addressed include how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river and who would finance a new water supply project. It also lists characteristics of “good” water supply projects, which it says shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, for one. The report, released Wednesday, says there is an immediate gap between the Front Range demand for water and the supply and mentions “risks of the status quo.”

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    Parker: ‘They don’t go dry out there’ — Ken Wright

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    Back when Governor Hickenlooper was first on the scene as Mayor Hickenlooper he hosted a series about water at the Museum of Nature and Science. Ken Wright was on hand to introduce Frank Jaeger, the General Manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District.

    “They don’t go dry out there,” said Wright. That’s the ultimate compliment for a water provider.

    Mr. Jaeger is now officially retired. Here’s report the Parker Chronicle (Chris Michlewicz):

    “I’ve always understood that I had a reputation, a sort of toughness. It intimidated people, and I let it intimidate some people when it was necessary for the benefit of the district,” he says. “If people want to denigrate me for that fact, I don’t care.”

    Despite departing earlier than expected — Jaeger frequently pledged to retire when he died, but was forced out after a change in board leadership — the 67-year-old is leaving with his head held high. He said he never compromised the integrity of the position and has “done all I can do for Parker Water.”

    At the recommendation of a neighbor, Jaeger joined the board of directors for the fledgling, financially troubled PWSD in 1981. He soon became its manager and was instrumental in turning around a district that was headed in the wrong direction. Since that time, Jaeger has slowly built up the district’s infrastructure, received permission to divert excess flows from Cherry Creek, and got public authorization to build Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which at the time was the first federally approved off-stream reservoir in more than 20 years.

    Jaeger, of Elizabeth, plans to enjoy his retirement by golfing (without keeping score), hunting, fishing and taking vacations with his wife, but will continue to offer guidance on water issues that affect Colorado. He is a lifetime member of the Colorado Water Congress and will regularly visit the Capitol to review the merits of proposed legislation.

    “They know I won’t be silent and will give honest opinions,” he said.

    More Parker coverage here.

    Silverthorne: The next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force is January 3 #CORiver

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    Here’s the agenda via email from Heather Bergman.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    Silverthorne: Next meeting of the Flaming Gorge Task Force December 18 #CORiver

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    Here’s the agenda.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    The Flaming Gorge Task Force October meeting summary is hot off the press

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    Click here to read a copy.

    More Flaming Gorge Task force coverage here.

    The Water Center at Colorado Mesa University newsletter is hot off the press

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    Click here to read it.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    ‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

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    Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

    Water Wranglers
    The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
    A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

    The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

    Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

    The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

    To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.

    IBCC: Should Colorado take a more active role in the Flaming Gorge Pipeline?

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    Here’s the meeting summary from email from Heather Bergman. Here’s an excerpt:

    After the last meeting, Jacob Bornstein and Tim Murrell conducted research on state involvement in water projects in Colorado and other states in West. Jacob and Tim presented information to Committee members regarding the role of the following states in existing and future new supply projects: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Following the Committee members’ discussion about this presentation, they considered the pros and cons of the State of Colorado having a role in a potential Flaming Gorge project. This information was provided as research only and was not intended as support for a particular type of state role in a water project in Colorado…

    Based on Committee members’ discussion regarding potential options for a State role in water storage projects, most of the group agreed that the State is currently doing well with its overall involvement in water project planning, development, and implementation. However, Committee members discussed potential expansions or improvements that could be made to the State’s function in the areas of leadership, research, and coordinating efforts related to new water projects in Colorado. Several other ideas for how the State could improve its role in water projects emerged during the Committee’s discussion…

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    Can the Flaming Gorge pipeline save ag and water Colorado’s burgeoning population?

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    Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series, written by Eric Hecox. He is exploring the benefits of the Flaming Gorge pipeline, originally conceived by Aaron Million, now in the gunsights of the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition. Here’s an excerpt:

    One potential new water project, the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, is being discussed and analyzed for its feasibility. The newly formed Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee is taking a closer look at this pipeline project. Simultaneously to this process, both public and private groups are investigating the potential of the project to meet present and future water demands. The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition, a public organization comprised of water and municipal entities in Colorado and Wyoming that could receive water from the pipeline if it is built, is conducting a feasibility study. A private developer, Aaron Millions, is also examining the project.

    The Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee has identified three areas of focus related to the Flaming Gorge Pipeline: explore interests and issues related to a possible Flaming Gorge water supply project; gather and analyze current information about the potential impacts of such a project; and explore what additional work or activities would be needed to address the issues and interests.

    The committee itself is a pilot project, created to assess the effectiveness of roundtable-based collaborations to explore water supply projects and issues. While the committee is focused on the Flaming Gorge project, it will also evaluate and track ideas and issues that emerge that can be applied to other potential water supply projects. The committee’s purpose is to gather information and explore ideas. It will not make recommendations about whether or not to build the Flaming Gorge Pipeline.

    The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition is also analyzing the feasibility of the project. Established in 2010, the coalition is a joint collaboration between Colorado and Wyoming entities. The Colorado entities are: Douglas County, South Metro Water Supply Authority, Parker Water and Sanitation District, Town of Castle Rock and Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority. The Wyoming entities are: City of Cheyenne, City of Torrington and Laramie County…

    The Colorado/Wyoming Coalition is committed to a transparent examination of the Flaming Gorge Project. The coalition will complete the study, develop information, and engage in discussions with supporters as well as with skeptics and opponents.

    Meeting Colorado’s water needs undoubtedly necessitates developing new water projects. The Flaming Gorge Pipeline project appears promising, however there is much work to be done including an objective examination of the project and open discussions among interested parties. Colorado has a robust water supply planning process and it is encouraging that, through this process and through project proponents, potential solutions to Colorado’s water shortage are emerging.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting recap: Concern that Colorado does not have the ‘courage’ to build projects

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    Here’s a recap of the recent Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    “I’m left with the feeling that other states have the courage to embark on water projects. We don’t have that,” said Mike Gibson, president of Colorado Water Congress and manager of the San Luis Valley Conservancy District.

    The task force reviewed projects that other Western states have undertaken — including California’s state water project, started in late 1950s, and a $19 billion project to manage demands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta; Arizona’s water bank program and Central Arizona Project; and Utah’s proposal to build a $1 billion Lake Powell pipeline similar to the Flaming Gorge proposal…

    …the state lacks a water plan and unlike other states, has no way to centrally plan projects or allocate water.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here and <a href="

    Salida: Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting Tuesday

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    Click here for a copy of the agenda. Thanks to Heather Bergman for sending it along in email.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    Colorado, Wyoming and Utah and the remaining water under the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact

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    Back in 1925 the Upper Colorado River Basin States united to fight the lower basin states over Colorado River projects like Boulder Dam unless the Colorado River Compact was signed. (Click on the thumbnail graphic for a graphic of The Denver Post front page from that time.) Fast forward to 1948 and the upper basin states inked the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. With both compacts signed everyone would be buddy-buddy for all time, right?

    Maybe not, here’s a report from Bart Taylor writing for the Planet Profit Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that demand on the Colorado River will significantly exceed supply in the coming years, and likely already has. This, along with drought and some rather dire climate change-related impacts, have forced state planners to reassess their Colorado River water supply and demand metrics. The Upper Basin has never fully utilized its full allocation of river water, either collectively or by individual state…

    It’s also begun to analyze its options to develop this remaining Colorado River allocation, and to the dismay of some in Wyoming and Utah (and Colorado, as I’ve written), one option involves a pipeline that taps the Colorado from its primary tributary, the Green River, at Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwest Wyoming and northeast Utah.

    For its part, Wyoming has also awakened to the tenuous future of its water resources. The Green has increasingly been identified as a river “at risk” – to the effects of drought, climate-change and a competition for water that’s reaching a fever-pitch throughout the region. Wyoming’s residents and politicians are therefore pushing back on what’s perceived by many here to be a water grab by Colorado – reminiscent of the threat posed by Lower Basin interest’s decades ago.

    According to my contacts, Wyoming water officials, including the state engineer, were initially neutral on the Flaming Gorge pipeline. Colorado is legally entitled to Green River water, and Flaming Gorge, like lakes Powell, Mead, Navajo and others, was built to implement the terms of the Colorado River Compact. To over-simplify greatly, the huge impoundments make it possible to even-out the distribution of water from wet years to dry for all parties to the agreement. Wyoming administrators initially had little reason (or recourse) to get worked up about the project, though from its source in Flaming Gorge, the pipeline would traverse the I-80 corridor west through Wyoming, then south to Colorado’s Front Range.

    Also, since Aaron Million conceived of a Flaming Gorge pipeline and reminded Colorado officials of the state’s right to file on the Green, most, but not all, water observers gave the project little chance of success. Building any water project, let alone a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional, trans-basin project, is daunting.

    Now, the political winds in Wyoming seem to blow hard against Flaming Gorge, the state engineer’s (yet unpublished) opinion notwithstanding. Ironically, Colorado water planners may be warming to the idea, again, driven by self-interest motivating all parties to the Compact. Colorado’s the fast-grower in the region and requires more water, even as it is entitled to more than its Upper Basin brethren. The state may simply not be able to turn its back on a huge, new source of water. (More on Colorado’s Flaming Gorge deliberations next time.)

    Utah’s perspective may also be changing. Within the last year, the state engineer approved water-transfer that will result in a new and fairly substantial appropriation, also from the Green River. As I outlined before, the premise is similar to that which may also drive Colorado to the Green – an unused portion of its Colorado River allocation.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge Task Force: Mixed views towards the feasibility of building the pipeline

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    On Friday, a task force of water interests from across Colorado charged to look into the feasibility of tapping the Green River met in Colorado Springs to discuss whether it’s possible or desirable to build a Flaming Gorge pipeline. While some on the task force said building a massive pipeline from western Wyoming to the Front Range would help restore the headwaters of the Colorado River while also preventing eastern Colorado farms from going dry, others were adamant that a Flaming Gorge pipeline is, at best, a project that could cause more strife than anything else…

    “There’s been no real analysis of the environmental impacts,” [Chuck Wanner of Colorado Trout Unlimited] said, adding that he doesn’t believe that it’s possible for the task force to fully assess the feasibility of a Flaming Gorge pipeline by the end of the year.

    Whatever project the state decides to build to bring more water to the Front Range, Colorado must tap all the Colorado River Basin water the state is entitled to, including Green River water, said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of Northern Water in Berthoud. That project, whether it’s a Flaming Gorge pipeline or something else, has to maximize currently-available infrastructure, and the proposed pipeline accomplishes that by using the Interstate 80 corridor in Wyoming, he said…

    “The most important issue in this is whether or not a project unites the state,” said T. Wright Dickinson, a Brown’s Park rancher and former Moffat County commissioner. He said a Flaming Gorge pipeline as it is being envisioned would be too divisive to be built, doesn’t address what happens when Western Slope farmers need more water and isn’t adequate to address the state’s long-term water needs. Dickinson suggested an even bigger project: Tapping the Mississippi or Missouri rivers with a massive westbound pipeline…

    The task force will meet once each month through December before making a final recommendation to state water regulators in January.

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    IBCC: Next Flaming Gorge Task Force meeting Friday in Colorado Springs

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    From email from Peak Facilitation Group (Heather Bergman):

    …please find the agenda for Friday’s meeting of the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee: Flaming Gorge. The meeting will be held from 10 am to 3 pm at the Pikes Peak Regional Council of Governments offices in Colorado Springs (15 S. 7th St..).

    More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

    Flaming Gorge Pipeline: ‘Colorado has water available under the Colorado River Compact’ — Nathaniel Budd

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    Here’s a guest column written by Wyco Water and Power, Director of Business Development, Nathaniel Budd, running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. From the column:

    Colorado has water available under the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement among seven Colorado River basin states governing allocation of water rights for the Colorado River. Until Colorado’s apportionment is fully developed, the Lower Basin (California, Nevada, and Arizona) will benefit at the detriment of Colorado. For 90 years, our region has over-delivered to the Lower Basin, largely because the infrastructure does not exist to utilize the water supply available to this state. The water belongs to Colorado, not California…

    Rather than develop waters allocated for the state’s beneficial use nearly 100 years ago, opponents of the Regional Watershed Supply Project would prefer to stunt economic growth and endanger the Upper Basin’s future water supply. If Colorado’s forefathers had been of this mindset, the eastern slope communities and the multi-billion-dollar agricultural base that supplies open spaces, preserves western culture, and provides innumerable environmental benefits would not exist as we know them today.

    Meanwhile, here’s a report about FERC’s latest rejection of the pipeline’s preliminary permit, from Mary Bernard writing for the Vernal Express. From the article:

    Aaron Milllion’s hydropower and water supply project, renamed the Wyco Power and Water Project was denied by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on May 17. That’s the second refusal of the project’s preliminary permit request from FERC, preceded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ termination in 2011. FERC refused a rehearing on the decision saying, Million’s arguments were unsupported and no preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project would be issued…

    The project has received widespread resistance from the private sector throughout the tri-state area. Formal opposition from Daggett and Uintah Counties, the Wyoming communities of Green River and Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, Wyo. and Moffatt County, Colo.

    Local fly fishermen openly opposed the water project saying it would draw down reservoirs and destroy world class fisheries on the Green River and Flaming Gorge. High Desert Anglers president Jeff Taniguchi warned that the “Million Project would absolutely decimate one of the most beautiful places in Utah, and compromise every downstream user of water on the Green.”

    Western Resource Advocates filed objections representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Protect the Flows asks Governor Hickenlooper to put the kibosh on the project

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    Here’s the release from Protect the Flows.

    118 West Slope businesses sent a letter this morning to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, expressing their opposition to the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline. The businesses are members of Protect the Flows, a coalition of over 500 small business owners in the seven state Colorado River region (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NM, UT, WY) who depend upon flows in the Colorado River and its tributaries that are adequate to support the recreation economy.

    In the letter…Protect the Flows asks that the administration cease devoting state resources to studying the Flaming Gorge pipeline upon conclusion of the state’s special task force examining the project’s feasibility. As the task force has deliberated, troubling facts about the pipeline have continued to emerge, opposition to the pipeline has continued to grow, and federal agencies have continued to deny all permit attempts for the pipeline. Protect the Flows indicated that they would welcome a dialogue on water that welcomes and fosters ideas beyond the proposed pipeline and adequately accounts for the economic interests of the recreation and tourism industry. The task force, known formally as the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee, is funded by a state grant issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is scheduled to continue discussions through the end of 2012.

    “The state’s task force is focused only on one increasingly controversial idea — the Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal,” said Molly Mugglestone, Coordinator for Protect the Flows. “But to come up with the most effective solutions on future water usage we must apply a broader, more inclusive framework, like the one that was applied in achieving the newly completed agreement between Denver Water and West Slope interests.”

    Protect the Flows recently released a report showing that the Colorado River and its tributaries support a quarter million American jobs and generates $26 billion annually in total economic output. In Colorado alone, the Colorado River supports about 80,000 jobs and about $9.6 billion in total economic output.
    
    The proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline puts that economy in harm’s way. The plan would siphon 80 billion gallons each year from the Green River (a Colorado River tributary), which was recently declared the second most endangered river in America by American Rivers, for shipment to the Front Range. Moreover, the State of Colorado estimates that construction costs for the pipeline could reach $9 billion. An economic study by Western Resource Advocates indicated that the pipeline would take nearly a quarter of the Green River’s flow, which would result in a $58.5 million dollar annual loss to the region’s recreation economy. That same study reported that the water delivered to the Front Range by the pipeline would have to be sold at a price that is the most expensive in Colorado’s history (up to 10 times more than any existing project) because of the pipeline’s steep construction and operation costs.

    “Construction of this pipeline would be devastating to the entire Colorado River System,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, President of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in Grand Junction, which employs 30 people. “The significant loss of flows in the Green River would dramatically impact the quality of river recreation and affect tourism for everyone downstream all the way to Mexico.”

    Protect the Flows has committed to spend 2012 reminding Governor Hickenlooper and state officials that public resources would be better spent on more affordable solutions that support recreation industry jobs, such as improving water conservation efforts, water reuse and recycling, and better land-use planning and growth management.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    ‘The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been rejected more often than a freshman before prom’ — Stacy Tellinghuisen (Western Resource Advocates)

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    It looks like Aaron Million will have to pony up the big bucks for engineering and attorney’s fees to flesh out his application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Here’s a report from Ben Neary writing for the Associated Press via the Fremont County Ranger. From the article:

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday refused a request from Aaron Million of Fort Collins, Colo., to reconsider its February denial of his permit. In denying Million’s application in February, FERC said it was premature and lacked specifics about the proposed pipeline…

    His plans have drawn opposition from Gov. Matt Mead as well as county and local governments in southwestern Wyoming and downstream states. “I continue to oppose this particular proposal and continue to believe that FERC is not the regulatory body to review Mr. Million’s proposal,” Mead said Thursday. “I am glad that FERC denied the request for a rehearing.”[…]

    “We anticipated that they would not change the direction from the original response, part of the request frankly had to do with a clarification of issues related to their original decision,” Million said. “And indeed, they did clarify several things, and we now understand the rationale, in essence. They said the application was too broad.”

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., “presented no information in its permit application or its request for rehearing to indicate that the planning, routing or authorizations for the water conveyance pipeline are in progress or reasonably foreseeable,” FERC’s order said. Until Wyco can do that, the order said, there’s no point in issuing a preliminary permit…

    Million said he expected this rejection and learned from the process. “They need some more specifics,” he said, estimating $5 million has been invested so far. “We’re pushing ahead. FERC will be involved at some point because they permit hydropower.”

    From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):

    FERC deemed the application from Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., inadequate in February but Wyco returned the next month asking the agency to reconsider. “We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project,” the commissioners wrote in their decision. “Therefore, we affirm the February 23 Order and deny Wyco’s request for rehearing.”

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

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today re-affirmed its decision to deny a rehearing on a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. This is now the third time (in less than a year) that a federal agency has rejected plans for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline.

    “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been rejected more often than a freshman before prom,” said Stacy Tellinghuisen, Water & Energy Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates. “It doesn’t matter how you try to alter the proposal, or whose name is on top. You can change the wording. You can change the font. You can print it on a different color paper. It’s still too expensive, too harmful to the environment, and just not necessary for meeting future water demands.”

    In July 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers terminated its review of the pipeline proposal, prompting Million to shift his application request to FERC. On February 23, 2012 FERC denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal, and on March 23 Million requested a “rehearing and clarification.” In a decision released this morning, FERC stated:

    We are not persuaded by any of Wyco’s unsupported arguments that it should be issued a preliminary permit for its proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project. Therefore, we affirm the February 23 Order and deny Wyco’s request for rehearing.

    Said Robert Harris, Staff Attorney with Western Resource Advocates: “Enough is enough. This is a strong signal to the State of Colorado to focus more time and attention on proposals that — unlike the Pipeline — are more ripe for serious consideration.”

    Million had been seeking a federal permit from FERC to review his ‘Flaming Gorge Pipeline’ (FGP) proposal to pump 81 billion gallons of water a year for more than five hundred (500) miles from the Green River in Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado—all at a projected cost of $9 billion dollars (according to CWCB calculations). Western Resource Advocates (WRA) filed objections to the application in representing itself, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC); in total, more than 5,000 objections were filed in December 2011 to Wyco’s proposal.

    Opposition to the Flaming Gorge Pipeline has continued to grow since December. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has formally objected to the proposal, as have numerous local governments in both Colorado and Wyoming (such as Grand Junction, CO and Laramie, WY).

    Here’s a release from Earth Justice (McChrystie Adams):

    Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) closed the door on what will hopefully be the last attempt to permit the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. FERC denied a request for rehearing from Aaron Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water, Inc.—an attempted “do-over” on FERC’s earlier denial of a preliminary permit. The Colorado developer has spent several years, and a claimed $5 million, attempting to launch this ill-conceived boondoggle. His proposal has been met with stiff opposition from conservation groups, individuals, and local communities and businesses. Now, FERC has provided a point-by-point refutation of Wyco’s application and rehearing request, and left no doubt that this pipeline remains a pipe dream.

    FERC’s order recognized that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is poorly defined, and the approval process would be “difficult and lengthy” due to the opposition and controversy surrounding the project. As a result, FERC states that it would be premature to issue the permit for the project at this time. Importantly, FERC also made clear that it would not license the entire 501-mile water conveyance project. FERC is now the second agency to reject Mr. Million’s attempts to review and approve the Pipeline, following the Army Corps of Engineers’ termination of its review of the project in 2011.

    McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for Earthjustice, had the following statement on FERC’s action:

    “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most expensive, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States. FERC got it right when they dismissed the permit application, and got it right again today when they denied Mr. Million’s rehearing request. We hope this will finally put an end to Mr. Million’s attempt to profit at the expense of one of the West’s last great rivers and the fish and wildlife, as well as the local economies, which depend on it.

    “This project—and any similar, large-scale transbasin diversions—is the worst way to meet Colorado’s water challenges. Such a project is unnecessary and distracts us from the important work we must do to build a secure water future. Unfortunately, we cannot be confident that this project is dead until Mr. Million and those who might follow his path abandon this futile scheme. We will continue to work to ensure that the Green River is protected and that this and other assaults on the West’s rivers do not succeed.”

    The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a massive transbasin water supply project that would annually take approximately 81 billion gallons (250,000 acre-feet) of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River and pipe it more than 500 miles over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range and southeastern Wyoming. This diversion would have devastating impacts on the native fish and wildlife in the Green and Colorado Rivers, batter regional recreational opportunities and jobs that depend on river flows, and potentially be a fatal blow to one of the West’s last great rivers. The plight of the Green River and the impacts of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline were highlighted this week when American Rivers declared it #2 on its list of “most endangered rivers” in the United States.

    After an attempt at permitting through the Army Corps of Engineers was rejected last year, Aaron Million’s new company Wyco Power and Water, Inc. turned to the FERC. In February, FERC, acting well within its discretion and following its governing regulations, dismissed Wyco’s preliminary permit application as “premature.”

    FERC, in its review of the preliminary permit application, rightly found that Wyco would be unable to gain the many authorizations and the design certainty necessary to file a license application within the three year permit term. Again failing to take “no” for an answer, Wyco then requested a rehearing, yet failed to provide any meaningful evidence or arguments that FERC got it wrong the first time. FERC’s ruling today upheld its earlier finding and left it clear that Wyco’s application is without merit.

    Earthjustice had intervened in FERC’s preliminary permit review and filed papers urging the agency to deny the rehearing request. 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.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The controversial Flaming Gorge pipeline (formally known as the regional water supply project) was initially under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but partway through that process, proponent Aaron Million switched gears and asked the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission to review the proposal as an energy generating project.

    FERC rejected the application once and Million subsequently appealed that decision under an administrative procedure. This week’s FERC ruled denies his appeal and appears to put the project on hold, at least for now.
    The proposal garnered widespread opposition from businesses that rely on recreational flows in regional rivers and streams, collectively represented by Protect the Flows.

    “The thousands of people in our region whose jobs depend upon a strong Colorado River system dodged another bullet today, but it’s time to move beyond this threat once and for all,” said the group’s coordinator, Molly Mugglestone. “Enough time and public money has been spent fixating on this one controversial idea, it’s time to bring people together to come up with a smarter way forward.”

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said in a statement Thursday that the order “confirms that it is premature to issue Wyco a preliminary permit for its seven proposed hydropower developments.”

    Miller said Wyco presented no information in its permit application or its appeal to show that Wyco has permission from landowners to build the pipeline across their property.

    “Until Wyco is able to do so, there is no point in issuing a preliminary permit for the hydropower developments because Wyco would be unable to study the feasibility of, and prepare a license application for, a project whose location has not been sufficiently narrowed,” the statement said.

    From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    The application for Wyco to study the feasibility of the pipeline — described officially as the Regional Watershed Supply Project — lacked concrete information such as the route or if any authorizations from land managers had been sought, according to the FERC decision. Also incomplete were details about the locations of its proposed hydropower stations. Aaron Million, a Fort Collins, Colo., entrepreneur who is pushing the project, said trying to provide that kind of detail this early in the process is premature — it needs more research…

    Wyco has 60 days to file an appeal of Thursday’s decision with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    Million on Friday said the latest ruling has given his team a better understanding of what it must include in its formal application. “We’ll address the issues and keep heading through the permitting process,” he said.

    Large engineering construction firms involved in the project remain interested, he added. He declined to name them, citing confidentiality agreements. The pipeline would help meet the water needs of Colorado, which faces a water supply shortfall, Million said. It also would bolster flows in the Poudre River.

    Finally, Chris Woodka talked to Aaron Million. The entrepreneur remains focused, according to Mr. Woodka’s report. From the article:

    “We plan to move forward and will submit a more complete application,” Million said. He added that he is continuing to secure financing for the project.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million’s homes in Fort Collins are in foreclosure, ‘This is completely isolated from everything we’re doing on the business side,’ — Aaron Million

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    Owing about $1.8 million on two Fort Coll-ins properties, water project financier Aaron Million’s two Fort Collins homes are listed in foreclosure, which includes a West Oak Street home listed as the business address for Wyco Power and Water, according to Larimer County Assessor and Colorado Secretary of State records…

    Larimer County property records show a home owned by Million Agricultural Investments Ltd. at 1436 W. Oak St., was listed in foreclosure in February with a scheduled sale set for June 6. The property is listed as a home and business address by Million with the Colorado Secretary of State. County records show Million is delinquent in his payments on the property, for which Million Agricultural Investments owes $553,814 to Verus Bank of Commerce. The home, he said Monday, is a personal residence owned by a partnership with his parents, who have fallen on hard financial times. Knowledge of the foreclosure, which is public record and has been published in legal ads in at least one other regional newspaper recently, “has effects on my kids and my family,” Million said. “This is completely isolated from everything we’re doing on the business side.”[…]

    Million’s 9,900 square-foot-home on Stargazer Court in northwest Fort Collins also is listed in foreclosure, with a scheduled sale date of Oct. 31.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    How would the State Engineer administer diversions with respect to the Flaming Gorge pipeline?

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    “I just laid out the options we have if either Flaming Gorge plan were to move forward,” State Engineer Dick Wolfe said following a meeting last week of the Flaming Gorge Task Force in Grand Junction. The options include special legislation to cover bringing water from outside the state, an agreement between the states or state rules on water imports…

    Wolfe is concerned that a pipeline could inadvertently injure Colorado water rights. Prompted by Million’s plan, Wolfe talked to the Colorado legislative interim committee on water resources last year about the possibility of legislation…

    Colorado already has agreements with Wyoming and Utah on how to administer specific rights that cross state lines. Those involve smaller quantities of water than Flaming Gorge would divert, and neither targets a specific water right. Under an agreement, Colorado would be able to ask Wyoming to curtail diversions if they threatened rights on the Colorado River within Colorado. There could also be impacts to the Colorado River Compact, among seven states, that could affect Flaming Gorge diversions. “We don’t want Wyoming making judgments on how much water we have left to develop under the compact,” Wolfe said…

    “It would involve a very public process, and would create the conditions for importing water,” Wolfe said. “Right now we have no venue to do that.”

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    IBCC: The Flaming Gorge Task Force March 27 meeting notes are hot off the press

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    From email from Peak Facilitation (Heather Bergman):

    …please find the summary of the March 27 meeting of the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee: Flaming Gorge here.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge pipeline: FERC is reviewing Wyco Water and Power’s request for a rehearing for the project’s preliminary permit

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    From Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed a notice Monday saying it needs more time to study a request for a rehearing filed by Aaron Million’s Wyco Power and Water Co.
    While notice was titled “Order Granting Rehearing for Further Consideration,” it did not in fact approve a rehearing on the entire pipeline project, FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said [ed. emphasis mine]…

    “All the notice meant was that the commission needed additional time to consider the rehearing request. If there was no action, the request would have been denied,” Miller said. “The commission is still reviewing the request.”

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Mark Wilcox):

    The rehearing comes despite multiple protests from environmentalist groups, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, Sweetwater County, Colorado Springs Utilities and others. Opponents claim it would damage the ecosystem surrounding Flaming Gorge, thereby damaging the $118 million local outdoor economy.

    In his rehearing request, Million invoked the approved, 139-mile Lake Powell Pipeline, which will cost $1.064 billion and be finished in 2020. He said his preliminary proposal was similar to the Lake Powell Pipeline, but while Lake Powell got a green light, Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. was stopped on red.

    “The commission’s order implies that the final pipeline alignment, all authorizations to construct the pipeline and even the construction of the pipeline should be completed prior to filing an application for a preliminary permit” Million’s rehearing request said.

    More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge pipeline: FERC grants a rehearing for the project’s preliminary permit

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    Update: FERC did not grant a request for a rehearing. They need more time to review the request.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced Monday it will grant a rehearing for Aaron Million’s Wyco Power and Water Co., over the objections of environmental groups and Colorado Springs Utilities…

    Among those opposing the rehearing were the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the National Parks Conservation Association, Western Resource Advocates and the Sierra Club.

    Colorado Springs Utilities on April 6 filed a motion asking FERC to exclude consideration of a reservoir in El Paso County at the same site where it plans to build a reservoir for the Southern Delivery System. The Norris family, owners of T-Cross Ranches, are family friends of Million. They have filed an application with El Paso County for the Marlborough Metropolitan District with the intention of building a regional reservoir on Upper Williams Creek, southeast of Colorado Springs.

    Million also could have competition in building the pipeline from the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, led by Frank Jaeger, manager of Parker Water, which is studying its own plan for a Flaming Gorge Pipeline.

    Meanwhile, a state task force continues to meet to identify issues that could arise if either project is built. Its next meeting is Wednesday in Grand Junction.

    Here’s the agenda for the next task force meeting via email from the IBCC facilitator.

    More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

    Flaming Gorge pipeline: The Garfield County Commissioners go on record opposing the project

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    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    …the decision to oppose the proposed 560-mile-long Flaming Gorge pipeline was not a unanimous one. The Garfield Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to take the position against the controversial project. Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said that, although philosophically opposed to Front Range water diversions, it’s too early in the process for the county to be taking a position on the controversial project…

    But Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin disagreed.

    Samson has been pushing for the county to take a stance against the project, as other Western Slope governments, water users and conservation groups have done. “We can’t continue to give West Slope water to Eastern Slope entities,” Samson said. “Enough is enough.

    “I’m looking down the road to our future needs,” he said. “Western Colorado will grow and expand, and we will need that water. And once it’s over there, there’s no way to get it back.”[…]

    Garfield County’s resolution opposing the project questions the costs for the project, as well as the potential threats to the western Colorado and other downstream water users on the west side of the Continental Divide. “The Flaming Gorge pipeline is not feasible without subsidies, with some estimates suggesting that the project would need as much as $370 million in state or federal subsidies,” the resolution states.

    “Garfield County urges Colorado water leaders and policymakers to devote the state’s attention and financial resources on water projects and programs that are cost-effective and that do not pit one region of the state against the others,” it concludes.

    More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

    An area on Upper Williams Creek, owned mostly by T-Cross Ranches, is a popular location for a terminal storage reservoir

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    The Norris family, owners of T-Cross ranches, wants to create a water district and build a reservoir on Upper Williams Creek, the same general location eyed by Springs Utilities, the Pueblo Chieftain reported last week.

    The family filed an application with El Paso County for Marlboro Metropolitan Water District. (Steve Norris’ father, Bob, portrayed the Marlboro Man in TV ads.) Steve Norris told the Chieftain that the reservoir would hold nearly 30,000 acre feet of water. The Norrises and the State Land Board own the property, located southeast of the Springs.

    Norris couldn’t be reached, but from the sound of things, he believes his project would be used by Springs Utilities or another project that needs water storage. He told the Chieftain, “There has been lots of interest throughout the region for creating a regional storage reservoir.”

    The reservoir site Norris chose would not require relocation of Bradley Road, as contemplated by SDS, the Chieftain reported, so Norris said his plan might save the city money. Norris and his friend, Aaron Million, who is planning a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River in Wyoming, also envision the site as terminal storage.

    But Utilities spokeswoman Janet Rummel says the Norris reservoir location “appears to conflict” with the city’s site planned as Phase 2 of the SDS project. SDS, an $880 million pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir to the Springs’ east side, will deliver water in 2016 and is causing water rates to rise sharply.

    More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here. More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

    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.

    Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Aaron Million estimates profits at $1.4 billion

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    If you’ve wondered why Aaron Million has been so dogged in his pursuit of his pipeline dream facing while facing huge opposition across Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and from conservationists across the U.S., you need only to focus on the potential rewards from a for-profit operation in the middle of Colorado’s last remaining developable water in the Colorado River basin and the wealthy Denver southern suburbs. Here’s a report from Catharine Tsai writing for the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article:

    His team’s confidential business proposal, shown to potential contractors, estimates construction costs of $2.8 billion to $3.2 billion, with annual operating costs of between an estimated $70 million and $90 million per year being paid by water users.

    The project would initially deliver about 110,000 acre-feet of water to municipal and industrial users, with re-use available to farm and environmental interests, according to the business plan. The water would be sold under a “cost plus 20 percent” financial model, with 20 percent being added on top of costs for delivering the water. That would result in a one-time $360 million to $480 million profit to the contractor from water sales, according to the plan.

    The second stage of the project would deliver up to 140,000 acre-feet, with water sold at market rates. “Potential net profit is targeted in the $1.4 billion to $2.4 billion range,” the plan said.

    Though the business plan lays out staged development, Million said the project likely would be built all at once to avoid having infrastructure costs balloon over time. In any case, costs should be lower if it’s developed privately, not publicly, he said. “The project is financially sound. We think we can get it done for 30 to 40 percent less than a public sector project,” Million said.

    Million provided the business proposal to The Associated Press in response to questions about an earlier version of the plan obtained by the AP.

    The role of Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. would be to shepherd the project through the permitting process, Million said. It would earn a management fee, which could range from 0.25 percent to 3 percent of money raised for its work, he said. The plan said Wyco is seeking to raise $15 million through 2015 to get through the permitting process. Million said the amount he has raised so far is confidential, but he has said $5 million has been spent on the project during the four years since he proposed it.

    “We’ve finally learned what this proposal is about. It’s about people wanting to get extremely rich off of the natural wealth of the Colorado River and the communities up and down the basin that depend on it,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Colorado.

    More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

    IBCC: Wyco Water and Power, Inc. and the Colorado-Wyoming Cooperative Water Supply Project proponents briefed the state task force yesterday

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A private developer and a public group who want to build major water supply pipelines from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range met Tuesday for the first time with a state task force. “Can both projects go? Folks, there should be collaboration. If this task force wants an additional task it could look at finding collaboration,” said Aaron Million, who first came up with the idea for the project about six years ago. “One of the outcomes of the task force has been a huge pushback from the environmental community.”

    Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. faces competition from the Colorado-Wyoming Coalition, led by Parker Water and Sanitation General Manager Frank Jaeger. The task force, formed at the request of the Arkansas and Metro basin roundtables, was formed to identify issues, interests and impacts associated with a Flaming Gorge project. It won’t recommend either project, and right now just has a growing list of questions and concerns…

    The Colorado-Wyoming Coalition still is investigating whether it even wants to pursue the project and is waiting on a Bureau of Reclamation determination of whether water is available, Jaeger said. “We don’t have all the answers,” Jaeger said. “We have to know what the Bureau of Reclamation plan says before we go any further.” The group has clearly identified it would serve a population of 569,000 in the next 60 years. The project would divert 100,000 acre-feet of water, which through re-use could provide about 200,000 acre-feet of need. About one-fourth of the water would go to communities in Wyoming.

    Million filed for water rights in 2007 on the Green River in Wyoming and has applied for a contract with Reclamation. He is using an earlier decision by Reclamation as the basis for his claim of 250,000 acre-feet. He has identified potential users, but does not have a specific list, unlike the coalition. So far, $5 million has been spent to develop his plan…

    While the project faces stiff opposition in Western Wyoming, there is a growing realization that the decision could be made without the area’s consensus. There is a spectrum of opinion heavily weighted toward stopping the project to those who realize control of the water is in someone else’s hands and the object is to reduce the impacts of diverting some of it. “I think our mission is to stay informed on the issues,” said Don Hartley, of the Rock Springs, (Wyo.,) Chamber Enterprise Committee. “We have to stay abreast of the issues with an eye to minimizing the impacts.”

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.