Utah State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen has rejected a controversial proposal to divert 55,000 acre-feet of the Green River’s flow from Utah to Colorado’s fast-growing Front Range cities.
Colorado entrepreneur Aaron Million has been pursuing this idea for more than a decade, resurrecting his pipeline proposal in 2018 after two prior failed attempts at approval. This time his firm White Horse Resources proposed a scaled-down pipeline tapping the Green below Flaming Gorge Dam at Browns Park and running 325 miles underground to Denver. Dubbed the “Green Sun Storage Hydro Power Project,” it would generate hydropower along its 3,800-foot decent from the Continental Divide to the Front Range.
Wilhelmsen found the proposal ran counter to policies Utah has been pursuing for decades regarding the recovery of endangered species of fish and the Beehive State’s own interest in developing its share of water in the Colorado River system…
Meanwhile, Wilhelmsen is considering Utah’s own proposal to substantially alter an 86,000-acre-foot water right associated with Flaming Gorge, moving the point of diversion downstream to feed the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.
At a hearing before the state engineer two years ago, Million likened his project to the 140-mile pipeline across southern Utah to St. George, claiming there was sufficient flows in the Green to accommodate both diversions.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has previously twice turned down similar Green River diversions proposed by Million.
“This [latest] decision is a big win for the Green River as well as the people and endangered fish that depend on it,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope the state engineer’s decision is the final nail in the coffin of this absurdly greedy, irresponsible plan.”
Diverting the water at Browns Park would have undermined costly efforts underway to rescue some of the Green’s native fish, McKinnon and other environmentalists argued.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive, but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry up.
Million, a Fort Collins-based entrepreneur, has pushed different versions of the pipeline for more than a decade, and the number of killed ideas and revisions has earned the project the nickname, the “Zombie Pipeline.”
Now seeking water rights from the Green River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty, growing population.
While Million’s proposal has drawn criticism from environmental groups and government agencies, some Front Range water suppliers have expressed interest in water from the pipeline.
The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley and serving Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, has re-affirmed its interest in the project, which it first expressed in 2009.
And the state of Colorado has taken a neutral stance.
Million, under the banner of a new business, Water Horse Resources LLC, is now proposing a project that would divert 55,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Green River in eastern Utah, below Flaming Gorge Reservoir near Brown’s Park and above Dinosaur National Monument. (See application and map, and click to zoom in on map).
An acre foot of water is roughly equivalent to a foot of water covering an entire football field, and enough to satisfy two small families’ yearly demands.
With 55,000 acre feet, the project, if it ever comes to fruition, could serve 110,000 families each year. It could also satisfy more than 10,000 acres of flood-irrigated farmland.
The water, up to 76 cubic feet per second, would travel in a pipeline that heads northeast out of Utah, cuts across a corner of Colorado, traverses 500 miles through Wyoming and over a low point in the Continental Divide, and then drops back into Colorado.
Because the pipeline would ultimately descend about 3,800 vertical feet, the water could power turbines that would generate about 70 megawatt hours of power per year.
For the project’s second phase, Million hopes to build pumped-storage facilities, which could fill with water during the day when energy is in low demand and release water through a turbine when demand is high, generating an additional 500 to 1,000 Mwh of power annually.
Front Range interest
The project’s opponents have pointed out problems for endangered fish, recreation and water availability. To bolster their claims many have pointed out that Million has yet to reveal a buyer for his water, and say that’s evidence that there is no interest in Green River water in Colorado.
But Million claims to have a buyer on the Front Range interested in purchasing the entire water supply, and other Front Range water providers have expressed their willingness to consider water from the pipeline.
For his water rights application, Million presented 17 letters of interest to Utah’s state engineer. Most of these letters were from a different pipeline application in 2010, but there was one from January from the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, or CCWCD.
The CCWCD serves about 550 farmers, but because the district is short of water, it is able to make only about half of its deliveries.
In November, voters passed a $48.7 million bond issue for the district to buy new supplies, and the CCWCD said it would consider water from a Flaming Gorge pipeline.
“I think it’s false that there is no interest for additional water supplies,” said Randy Ray, the district’s executive director, in a recent interview. “Our board is supportive of any methods to bring water to our area. We will evaluate just about everything.”
According to Million’s testimony before the State of Utah’s Division of Water Rights on Nov. 11 the CCWCD has joined his project’s advisory board.
“They have a huge demand-supply imbalance on the South Platte in Colorado they are looking at,” Million said.
Birth of a concept
One night in 2003, Million stumbled across an old map in the library at Colorado State University, where he was a graduate student in resource economics.
He focused on the northwest corner of the state where the Green River comes down from Wyoming into Utah and then comes in and out of Colorado in a sweeping oxbow before traveling down to meet the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.
Free from the clutter of roads, this 1920s map made the thick, blue squiggle so obvious that it suddenly gave Million an idea to bring that water to the Front Range.
“I thought that surely someone had thought about that,” Million said.
The project became his master’s thesis and, later, a proposal for a real project. The original concept looked at importing nearly 250,000 acre-feet of water from a point of diversion in Wyoming.
He filed applications for different versions of his concept under the companies Million Conservation Resource Group Inc. and Wyco Power and Water Inc. Both applications were dismissed by government agencies for a lack of information earlier this decade.
The new plan scales back the amount of water to be drawn from the river and includes an emphasis on hydropower along with water delivery.
The company has not released a detailed cost estimate to the public, but Million says estimates range from $860 million to $1.1 billion. He also says private consultants have put the project’s ultimate value at more than $30 billion.
With these new pieces in place, Million believes this project has a better chance, but he’s facing opposition on many fronts, permit challenges and a daunting environmental-impact study.
Interest in the water?
Million’s latest filing for water rights in Utah, in January, drew 28 protest letters, from environmental groups, concerned citizens and water districts, as well as from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Interior.
A Nov. 7 hearing on the proposal in Utah led to a headline in the Salt Lake City Tribune that said, “Environmentalists, feds, and Utahns agree: Don’t send Green River water to Colorado.”
Many of the presentations against the water project cast doubt on whether there was even any water in the Colorado River system left to take.
“If you’re going to develop more water, you are going to threaten current uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, which opposes the project. “This might be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Still, the most common concern was that Million had not released a signed contract that showed someone would buy the project’s water.
At the project’s water-rights hearing at the Utah state engineer’s office in November, several groups pointed to fields on Million’s application where the purpose and place of use were left as “TBD,” or to be determined.
“That just smacks of speculation,” said Ariel Calmes, a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, which is also opposing the project.
“This is a water grab,” Calmes said. “It’s not a reasonably thought-out plan to get water resources to benefit a specific community.”
But while Million and his team have struggled against public backlash and weathered claims that there was no interest in Green River water, other water entities in Colorado have quietly picked up his idea.
In 2006, just as Million was getting his initial idea off the ground, the South Metro Water Supply Authority — a group of water suppliers south of Denver — launched studies for an almost identical project, and another group near Colorado Springs released a study into a Flaming Gorge pipeline in 2013.
The governor’s water advisers also took note of Million’s plan, and Colorado’s 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative included a Flaming Gorge pipeline as one of four possibilities for new water supplies for the state.
That same report found that the South Platte Basin, which includes all of northeastern Colorado, would need as much as 330,000 acre-feet more water to meet demand projections by 2050.
While the state has not come out firmly in support of Million’s project, the Colorado Water Conservation Board said in a July 7 letter that it did not oppose the Utah application. The letter indicated that the Colorado state engineer would need to weigh in on the proposal if the Utah water rights were secured.
Million is quick to swat away arguments that his project is speculative, noting that water demand in Colorado has only grown since he first conceived of the pipeline. He also claims an entity with “large ranching and municipal interests” has already agreed to take all the water at a specific price.
He also said he is in preliminary conversations about a power-purchase agreement for the renewable energy that the pipeline would generate.
Due to continuing negotiations and a nondisclosure agreement, Million said he would not reveal either of the two interested parties at this time.
But scrutiny of Million’s latest plan is increasing.
On the water horse
On Dec. 10, the Utah state engineer’s office requested additional information from Million to evaluate his application.
The request asked Million to prove that water was available in the Colorado River system and that water taken from his pipeline would come from Colorado, not Utah’s, share of the river.
The requests also sought further proof of feasibility, but did not request additional proof of demand or a contract for the purchase of the pipeline’s water.
Water Horse Resources has until Feb. 8 to supply the new information.
Million is confident that his project, this time around, will move forward. He says the protests and the noise from the public don’t get to him anymore.
“You saddle the horse,” he said, “You do what you think is right and you move on with it.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Greeley Tribune on coverage of regional water issues. The Tribune published a version of this story on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The possibility of using existing pipelines rather than having to build new ones entirely is one tack Million is taking in arguing in favor of the economic feasibility of his idea.
Financial viability is one of the issues that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones is pressing Million on as Million pursues a Utah water right for the project.
Jones heads the Utah Division of Water Rights, which last month heard from Million and numerous project opponents before deciding that it needed more information from Million.
On Dec. 10, Jones wrote to Million, asking for a detailed engineering cost-estimate for conveying the water to the Front Range that demonstrates the cost would be physically and economically feasible.
Million said Monday that he can’t speak in details about possible use of existing infrastructure due to a nondisclosure agreement, but said several pipelines cross the Green River at his proposed diversion point, and an existing pipeline goes to north of Greeley…
In his letter, Jones also asks Million for information on why Jones should believe there is water available, physically and under interstate Colorado River compacts, for diversion. Jones pointed to existing downstream water rights and approved applications to appropriate water, endangered-fish needs, and potential federal reserved water rights for Indian tribes and for national parks, monuments and recreation areas…
“This information is being requested since the state engineer has already established by policies adopted for this area a belief that the amount of water proposed under the application is not available for beneficial use as your application proposes,” Jones wrote to Million.
Million said a recent federal environmental review found a surplus of water beyond environmental, recreation and other needs in the stretch of the Green River where he proposes his diversion, upstream of where it is replenished by the Yampa River.
Million said his understanding is that Utah is concerned that a proposed pipeline project from Lake Powell would use some of its remaining compact allocation.
But he said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a surplus available for other states, and his project would count against Colorado’s allocation.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Division of Water Rights last week heard from project proponent Aaron Million and from numerous entities that oppose it, before deciding to request more information from Million before a decision can be made.
Million, a Fort Collins resident, filed the Utah application through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, seeking to divert 55,000 acre-feet a year and pipe it east to Wyoming and then south to Colorado…
The idea is being opposed by federal agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service. Other opponents include western Colorado’s Colorado River District, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District in Colorado, multiple water conservancy districts in Utah, conservationists, and notably the Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources. That board works to conserve and develop the state’s water, and is worried that the proposal would let Colorado benefit at Utah’s expense…
Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, questions the project’s economic feasibility.
“Water Horse’s application has not shown that it has any significant committed recipients who are willing to pay for the water that’s supposed to be diverted,” he said…
The decision on Million’s water right application will be made by Utah’s state engineer, who heads the state’s Division of Water Rights.
Million said he thought the hearing went well and he’s awaiting a letter from the state engineer detailing what additional information is needed…
He said probably one-third or one-half of the 28 or so objectors didn’t show up at the hearing.
In the case of those who testified, “every point they made we’ve already looked at inside and out and so we’ll answer the issues related to the permit and move on,” he said.
A 30-day comment period will be provided after Million responds to the request for more information.
Ariel Calmes, a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, said in a news release after the hearing, “This application is the latest episode in Aaron Million’s decade-long effort to profit off of the private sale of Green River water. Million is proposing to divert water from Utah to the detriment of multistate water agreements, the recovery of endangered species, and millions of dollars in recreation spending.”
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
“It’s a plumbing project,” Million said. “We’re just looking at a small piece of the surpluses to bring new water supplies over.”
But others say it isn’t so simple; it’s not clear that there actually is extra water. More than 30 protests have been filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights. Many of these come from organizations that think Million’s team is skirting some major issues.
“What you’re doing is putting everyone at great risk,” said Andy Mueller, executive director of the Colorado River District, which is tasked with safeguarding Colorado’s water supply. Much of that comes from the Colorado River Basin.
That’s a big, complex system that feeds 40 million people across seven states and part of Mexico. The Green River is part of that; it connects to the Colorado River in Utah. So when you pull water from the Green, it affects a delicate balance that has been in the works for nearly a century.
The Colorado River Compact
In 1922, seven states signed the Colorado River Compact, a legally binding agreement. The four upper basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — agreed to let a set amount of water flow downriver into the lower basin, comprised of Arizona, Nevada and California.
But it’s really dry in these states and climate change means there’s even less water in the river. So when new players like Million try to jump in the game, it adds some real tension.
In the worst-case scenario — a serious, long-term drought — the lower basin states can cash in on that agreement, the so-called compact call.
As Zane Kessler with the Colorado River District explained, we’ve never been through that before, but he thinks a proposal this big would push us closer to the edge.
“We don’t know what’s on the other side of that cliff, because we’ve never been through it,” Kessler said. “We do know that it could cause chaos on a number of different levels, and that’s the biggest concern for a lot of us.”
But Million isn’t too concerned about a compact call. He’s said basically it’s an empty threat, and he points blame for any shortages at the lower basin states, saying they use more than their share. Plus, he said, this water is needed right here in Colorado.
“We shouldn’t let the water go to the lower basin when we are faced with the impacts we are on the upper basin,” Million said.
The River District thinks he’s over-simplifying, because it’s actually not totally clear how much water Colorado has left to claim. Mueller explained that recent studies have shown the state is probably already using its full share.
“We think that we are at a point where we no longer have water to develop in the state of Colorado in the Colorado river system,” Mueller said.
He said the key to managing water in this complex system is working together; it’s what has worked so far.
“The entire river system is short of water, and we’re all watching this very careful balance,” he said. “That’s the biggest concern, I think, is that [Million is] going around this developed consensus in our state.”
The consensus surrounds all kinds of water users, concerning everything from how to conserve water in cities to how to protect fish. Bart Miller is with Western Resource Advocates, which opposes Million’s project on environmental grounds.
“The Green River is really a stronghold, has been a stronghold, for some of these endangered fish, and so it’s a place that I think a lot of folks are concerned about the impacts of a large quantity of water being taken out,” he said.
Plus, Miller said, it’s not clear how exactly the diverted water will be used and that breaks the anti-speculation rules in water law.
Million has said the water would be used for hydropower, irrigating agricultural lands and for municipal uses, like drinking water. But he hasn’t said specifically who would use it in those ways…
“There aren’t any identified users of the water,” he said. “And in both Utah and Colorado, speculation — developing water just so you can have it — is highly discouraged.”
That could set the foundation of a legal fight. For now, it’s up to the Utah Division of Water Rights to decide if the project moves forward.
From the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District via the Rio Blanco Herald Times:
Earlier this month the Colorado River District released a statement protesting the application for water rights filed by Water Horse Resources LLC, owned by Aaron Million.
The application for Utah water rights requests 55,000 acre feet of water from the Green River with two pump stations located five miles from the Colorado state line in Dagget County, Utah, on Bureau of Land Management land. The water would then run through a hydroelectric facility before being piped nearly 500 miles northeast into Wyoming and then south down the Colorado Front Range.
The river district’s letter of opposition cites a variety of reasons why the application should be denied, including the speculative nature of the application saying, “A fundamental precept of water use in Colorado (and, we believe, in Utah as well) is a strict prohibition on speculative claims of water. No specific beneficial use or need has been identified for the project other than a general reference to future water demands in Colorado.”
The district also raises concerns about the legal and practical nature of enforcing and accounting for a water right issued by the State of Utah but with great impact on Colorado water users. The letter states, “The proposed water right would exacerbate the supply problems currently faced in the Colorado River Basin, and would increase the need and cost of any Upper Basin demand management program.”
Another concern raised by both the river district and numerous environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity who have spoken against the application is the lack of environmental analysis.
In years prior Million has unsuccessfully attempted to obtain water rights that would allow him to pipe water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Front Range. The Colorado River District opposed that application as well.
“This new application suffers from many of the same problems as his previous proposals but presents a number of new problems and interstate legal issues as well,” said Peter Fleming, General Counsel for the Colorado River District.
In a statement released last week Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller said, “Development of this resource in this manner would not only harm existing Western Slope water users but would impact the ability of the River District and the State of Colorado to plan for and develop future water resources as well.”
Thirty-two letters of protest have been filed against the project including letters from the Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources who raise similar concerns to those mentioned by the Colorado River District.
In a press release issued last week Million stated, “Utah is initiating an identical project…The Lake Powell pipeline. Point of diversion in Arizona, water and hydroelectric power into Utah. We are watching that closely as they are still sorting out federal permitting responsibilities. The Upper Colorado River Compact is clear and allows the use of water from Utah or Wyoming into Colorado. Or vice versa. For the last 96 years the Upper Basin, which includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico has over-delivered its’ Compact share. The issues on the Colorado are almost strictly a Lower Basin over-use issue, which includes California, Arizona and Nevada. Had the Lower Basin not drained the Lower Colorado River and over-utilized their water allocation, Lake Powell and Mead would be full by five times plus.”
The project, nicknamed Grasshopper by Water Horse, is estimated to cost $890 million. Tom Wood, Project Management team member stated, “The Green has numerous advantages. A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the State of Colorado’s storage availability. Additionally, all the global warming models are indicating the Green River will be wetter than average in the future, coupled with a later snowmelt than the Colorado River main stem. The Green River headwaters is located several hundred miles north of the Colorado River headwaters. This year is a classic reason that two hydrologically diverse basins, meaning the Colorado River and Green River, and their respective water supplies, should be managed collectively. The Upper Green is currently running 140 percent of average snowpack, the Colorado River main-stem is half that or less, at maybe 60 to 65 percent. It diversifies water supply management risk, which ties directly to alleviating ecosystem and environmental impacts.”
Rio Blanco Water Conservation District Manager Alden Vanden Brink is concerned about the project. “Focusing on the water resource needs in Northwest Colorado I intimately understand how water projects that are speculative in nature, as Mr. Million’s project is, include, intrastate concerns and potentially put water resour ces in Western Colorado at risk to Compact curtailment are certainly something that we need to pay close attention to,” he said.
Several organizations have filed formal protest against a water rights application filed in January, which proposes diverting water from the Green River in Utah over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.
The application, filed by Aaron Million’s Water Horses LLC, calls for 55,000-acre-feet of water to be used in a hydroelectric power facility, likely in Wyoming, before becoming available for consumptive use and in-stream flows on the Front Range. It proposes two pump stations on Bureau of Land Management land about 5 miles west of the state line in Dagget County, Utah, just before the river takes its 41-mile turn into Moffat County.
It would take about 500 miles of pipeline to divert the water from Utah north and east into Wyoming and the Front Range.
The location of the hydroelectric facility “will be determined at a later date, following additional project design and engineering,” according to the application.
Thirty two formal letters of protest from 27 individuals and organizations were submitted to the Utah State Engineer. Protests came from a wide swath of organizations, including a labor union on Water Horse Resources’ project team, an energy company, several environmental nonprofits, private individuals and state and federal agencies. The public protest period on the project closed April 7.
Now, the Utah Division of Water Resources will make a decision on whether to grant the water right. Once the decision comes out, it could be appealed in court.
“It’s just a disagreeable idea to have water from this side of the mountain going over to the other side of the mountain for development purposes, maybe even speculative development purposes, at that,” said Terry Carwile, a Craig resident who sent a letter of protest on the project.
Million has filed applications for Green River water before. In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Water Horse Resource’s application to divert 240,000 acre-feet of water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to the Front Range…
The project would cost about $890 million, according to a news release from Water Horse Resources LLC. The company has nicknamed it the “Grasshopper Project,” a play on the pronunciation of an acronym of the project’s full name, Green Sun Storage Hydro Power.
“The Green has numerous advantages,” Water Horse Resource’s Tom Wood said in the news release. “A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the state of Colorado’s storage availability.”
In the news release, Million said that “surpluses out of the Green River can alleviate some issues on the Front Range and take pressure off the high mountain Colorado River headwaters, like the Blue and Fraser River.” Million thinks the project would help net flows on the Colorado River.
“The Green River is one of the remaining watersheds in the Colorado River Basin — specifically in Colorado – that isn’t completely allocated. The state and management/planning entities in the water community want to be able to plan appropriately for the future use of that water,” said Zane Kessler, a spokesperson for the Colorado River District, the organization that operates Elkhead Reservoir and is largely responsible for management of water in the Colorado River Basin.
“The application that we’re looking at now, filed by Mr. Million, would essentially usurp our ability to collectively plan for the appropriate development of the remaining and dwindling water resources that we have at our disposal,” he added.
Kessler said the Colorado River District is concerned the proposal could have far-reaching impacts. The district is worried the proposal could “push us over the cliff,” in meeting obligations to send water downstream under the Colorado River Compact. Should this project over-allocate water in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado water users could be forced to reduce use.
“The risk is not only borne by users on the Green River,” Kessler said. “It’s users throughout the Colorado River basin and the state.”
In Utah, state officials are concerned about impacts to Green River users, as well as the state’s ability to manage for endangered fish. In a letter of protest filed by the Utah Board of Water Resources, officials also question whether the state of Colorado would count the diversion against Colorado’s allocation under the Colorado River Compact.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The Colorado River Water Conservation District is opposing a water developer’s plan to divert water from the Green River in Utah and pipe it to growing Front Range communities.
The River District formally opposed the proposal by Aaron Million and Water Horse Resources LLC for a Utah water right to divert 55,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River and pipe it to the fast-growing metro area.
Million’s proposal is similar to, but smaller, than a previous proposal to pump water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and pipe it across the Continental Divide.
The River District complained in a filing with the Utah Division of Water Rights that Million’s proposal was speculative in that he had failed to specify a use or need for the water and noted that he should first obtain a Colorado water right.
Million’s project also would adversely impact the ability of the state of Colorado, the River District and other public entities to plan for the development of Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, and so his application “would be detrimental to the public welfare.”
Million called it “unfortunate that they don’t take a broader view” of how to manage water in the arid West…
Under Interior Department estimates, about 500,000 acre-feet of water remain to be appropriated in the Colorado River system and his project could reduce stress on the headwaters of the Colorado River, Million said.
The River District’s objection to a Utah water right for the project also noted that Million had not demonstrated he could operate the plan in compliance with the Colorado water plan’s conceptual framework on transmountain diversions.
The current proposal, like Million’s last one, is predicated on the idea that Colorado has a right to water from the Green River because it takes a “41-mile dogleg” into Colorado after leaving Wyoming and heading into Utah.
The River District urged the Utah agency to reject Million’s request unless he can prove the project won’t “adversely impact existing water uses in the Upper Basin” of the river and that it would not be detrimental to the public welfare.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Utah Board of Water Resources and Division of Water Resources say in their protest letter that the proposal is “very unusual,” and that it “requests a huge amount of water” — 76 cubic-feet per second or 55,000 acre-feet a year — “from Utah’s precious water resources, for some unknown use in Colorado.”
They say the water right application, “if granted, would allow Colorado to benefit from the development, economic opportunities, and public well-being benefits that accrue from water resources at Utah’s expense.”
Aaron Million, the Fort Collins man who filed the application through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, said the protest from the water board is standard, to provide standing in the water right case if any major concerns arise for the protesters in the future…
The Utah water resources board is appointed by Utah’s governor to develop and conserve the state’s water. The decision on Million’s water right proposal will be made by Utah’s state engineer, who heads the state’s Division of Water Rights.
Million is proposing piping the water east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado…
The river district filed a protest against Million’s new proposal. So did the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, several conservation groups, and several local water conservancy districts and water users associations in Utah.
The Utah water resources board and division say in their letter that the current application “will have huge impacts in Utah,” affecting water supply and quality in the state even as its population is growing and its water needs are increasing, and impacting public recreation and the stream environment along the Green River.
They question the physical and economic feasibility of piping the water “over or around the Rocky Mountains” for use on the Front Range, and say the application was filed for speculative purposes.
“Nothing in the vague application outlines actual beneficial uses in Colorado. No contracts or other types of agreements are provided demonstrating that Colorado can beneficially use the water, or for what beneficial uses it would be employed,” the letter says.
Million says he had subscribed interest for 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project, and demand for water has gone up since then.
He estimates that the project could cost up to $1 billion, down from an estimated $2.8 billion for the previous one, and says a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range helps make the project economic.
The Utah water resource officials, in their letter, also question what authorizations the project has from the state of Colorado to ensure the diversion would count against Colorado’s allocation under an interstate compact divvying up water among states in the Upper Colorado River Basin…
Million said other similar projects already exist in the Upper Colorado River Basin, and he noted that Utah is pursuing a project that would involve diverting water out of the Arizona portion of Lake Powell and piping it into Utah.
From the Center for Biological Diversity (Taylor McKinnon):
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a protest today with Utah’s state engineer challenging a water-rights application from Water Horse Resources to pump nearly 18 billion gallons of water each year from Utah’s Green River over the Rocky Mountains to Colorado’s Front Range.
The plan is the second attempt by would-be water developer Aaron Million to pump water from the Green River to the Front Range. Million’s first plan was rejected twice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 following challenges by conservation groups and others.
“This is another private water-mining boondoggle that hurts everyone but water barons,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon. “It’s bad for people who depend on the Green River, it’s bad for endangered fish, and it’s bad for the state of Utah. We’ve given the state engineer a long list of reasons to reject this application and that’s exactly what he should do.”
Today’s protest states that the application violates state law by failing to identify beneficial uses of the water and by exacerbating water shortages. The withdrawal would overallocate water in the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, and add to climate-driven flow declines. The application is predicated on using Colorado’s apportionment under the Upper Colorado River Compact, but provides no evidence that Colorado has agreed, or will agree, to this.
The water withdrawals would occur below Flaming Gorge Dam in a part of the Green River that is critical to the recovery of Colorado pikeminnow and other endangered fish. The withdrawal would reduce river flows designed to help increase the fish population at a time when failure to meet recovery flows already imperils the fish. Drought is expected to cause low river flows throughout the Upper Colorado River Basin this year.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Aaron Million has filed for a water right with the state of Utah for the project, which would involve diverting about 55,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Green River near the Browns Park area close to the Colorado line. The water would be piped east in Wyoming and then south into Colorado.
The project differs from a previous version Million proposed years ago in that it involves about a fifth as much water, and the previous incarnation would have diverted water upstream, from Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Both the past and present versions have a hydropower element to them. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2012 denied a preliminary permit application for the pipeline proposal…
He’s doing so through the company Water Horse Resources LLC, which Million said has a new board and project team compared to the company that pursued the prior project…
Harris said there’s no evidence that Million has identified end users for the water, and speculation on water is illegal in Colorado, which raises the question of whether he’s trying to get a water right in Utah to sidestep Colorado water courts.
Million said he had subscribed interest in more than 400,000 acre-feet of water for the previous project…
Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River District, said a Green River diversion to the Front Range would count against Colorado’s percentage of Upper Colorado River Basin water use under a 1948 compact with other Upper Basin states. Colorado already uses a higher percentage than it’s allocated under that compact, and if a water shortage kicks in under the basinwide 1922 compact and the Upper Basin has to deliver more water downstream, Colorado would have to contribute first to make up any deficit, Treese said.
He said there also are a lot of questions about what the route for the pipeline would be and whether anyone could use the water along the way.
“I think … right now the first step is trying to ascertain how serious (the proposal) is,” Treese said. “… It’s early in a process of looking at a long and complicated application.”
Million said the project’s estimated cost is $890 million to $1 billion, down from the $2.8 billion cost for the previous proposal.
He said a tripling in the cost of water on the Front Range has allowed for a much smaller project to be affordably built and still help some water-short areas.
He described the project as “a very simple plumbing project” that would be first and foremost about supplying renewable energy. He said it would include huge amounts of hydropower and pumped-storage hydropower. The latter involves pumping water at night when electricity is cheap into upper reservoirs and then sending the water through generators back to lower reservoirs to create higher-priced power during the day.
He said his company is looking at using a lot of solar and wind energy to power pump stations.
Million said that in bringing new water to the Front Range, the project would take pressure off some Front Range rivers, along with some Colorado River headwater streams now heavily taxed by diversions across the Continental Divide. That would boost water levels in the Colorado River mainstem, he said.
He also sees a benefit in tapping the Green River watershed in a year such as this one, when snowpack levels in that watershed are much higher than in the upper reaches of the Colorado River Basin.
He added, “All of the global warming models show the Green River system to be wetter than average in the future compared to the Colorado River mainstem.”
Million said moving the diversion point downstream of Flaming Gorge Reservoir addresses concerns that have been raised about impacts the project could have had on reservoir levels.
The proposal is a scaled-down version of Colorado resident Aaron Million’s controversial plan that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected in 2012. Under a new company name of Water Horse Resources LLC, the would-be water developer and Fort Collins-based entrepreneur filed the application Jan. 12, seeking permission to export 55,000 acre-feet of water, but with no specific use or destination offered.
His latest proposal, called Green River Pipeline or Flaming Gorge Project, would move 18 billion gallons a year — at a rate of 76 cubic feet per second — 375 miles across Wyoming, then south to Denver. Million estimates the project would cost $800 million to $1 billion, covered by private investors.
“We spent the last several years re-engineering the project and brought in a North American team and a new board of directors. Collectively they have $100 billion in net revenues,” said Million, who has also been working on his doctorate in natural-resource policy at Colorado State University.
His new vision of the project calls for powering the pipeline with wind and solar power, then recouping that energy with a series of inline hydro turbines on the downhill part of the line in Wyoming, taking advantage of the pipeline’s net elevation drop.
“At the end of the day, this is a renewable energy project,” Million said, noting the line would descend 3,800 vertical feet after cresting the Continental Divide. “That’s why we brought in the Canadians [SNC-Lavalin, headquartered in Montreal]. They are the world’s best in hydropower.”
He said the pipeline is being rebranded as Green River Sun Storage Hydropower Project, which will have a memorable acronym that resembles “grasshopper.”
The project began as Million’s master’s thesis. But from the beginning in 2006, his quest to tap the Green was ridiculed for its potentially astronomical costs, the lack of interest of water on the receiving end and subsequent denials from various permitting agencies…
“There is no indication that he is standing in the shoes of real users in Colorado, or Wyoming or anywhere,” said Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates, a public-interest law firm that contested Million’s earlier proposals. “Water is a public resource in Utah and Colorado. As such, in both our states you need a real use to have standing to claim a water right like this.”
Now Million proposes drawing the water from two points in Utah’s Daggett County, several miles downstream from the dam and just upstream from Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline alignment still tracks along Interstate 80 across Wyoming but it drops south only as far as Denver…
Under Million’s application, the appropriated water would be used in a variety of ways, including municipal, industrial, commercial, irrigation, livestock and mining. It would move in a buried pipeline through inline hydroelectric turbines in Wyoming, which would allow the project to capture some of the power it would use to lift the water over the Continental Divide.
Nor does the application identify any specific destination. It is accompanied by a hand-drawn map showing the pipeline alignment and a Y-shaped “place of use” in northern Colorado outlined in red, covering 47 townships. Maps of these townships are also attached to the application…
Among the partners Water Horse lists on its web site is Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, based in Greeley, which provides augmentation water to around 600 farms in the South Platte River Valley. The district is under contract to provide 85,000 acre-feet, but its ability to meet these obligations has been “curtailed” by half, according to executive director Randy Ray…
Daggett County opposed Million’s pipeline project the last time around. County Commission chairman Jack Lytle said he was not familiar enough with the new proposal to provide comment on Monday.
Conservation groups oppose the diversion because of its potential impact on habitat for both sport fish and endangered native species, such as the Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, humpback chub and razorback sucker.
The natives depend on occasional chaotic high flows that rearrange the stream channel, but have been widely depleted by dam operations…
“The river system is so overtaxed and these fish so overstressed, any more removal of water would jeopardize the existence of these four fish,” said Michael Saul of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Taking another 55,000 acre-feet out of the Green is a ridiculous idea in light of the fact that these fish are not recovering under the recovery plans now. This depletion is so huge, it is not covered by current biological opinions.”
For its part, Trout Unlimited has invested in programs that compensate water-rights holders for allowing more water to remain in the Colorado River system to support healthy fish habitat. A proposed diversion as big as the one Million is pursuing would defeat those efforts, according to Jordan Nielson, coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program.