In dry Wyoming, it has been said that water is more precious than gold.

If this is true, recent efforts by a Fort Collins entrepreneur to suck water from Wyoming’s Green River and Flaming Gorge and send it to Colorado should be generating terrific opposition.

Called a “trans-basin water diversion plan,” this monster project figures to use a 10-foot diameter pipe to transport water 560 miles from near Green River, WY all the way to Pueblo, CO.

Project Analysis Area, portion of Public Notice

Project Analysis Area, portion of Public Notice

Based on old studies and an outdated water compact, the plan calls for taking 250,000 acre-feet of water per year out of the gorge and the Green River near the town of the same name. This is water one foot deep over 250,000 acres, a huge amount.

Here’s the background:

  • Aaron Million, a Fort Collins entrepreneur, has been working for years on a plan to divert this water from Wyoming to Colorado.
  • He has hired former Wyoming state water engineer Jeff Fassett as his lead consultant and recently hired Cheyenne attorney Steve Freudenthal as his lawyer. Steve is the brother of Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
  • Mr. Million estimates he can do the project for $4 billion. He claims getting the money is no problem.
  • A tiny bit of the water may be dropped off in places in Wyoming along I-80 like Rawlins, Laramie and Cheyenne, but more than 90 percent is presumably slated for cities such as Fort Collins, Greeley, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Mr. Million, though, has refused to disclose where his end users are located.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers is now studying the project and held scoping meetings in Green River and Laramie this past week (April 12-17) concerning the project.
  • Wyoming officials have not been enthusiastic about the project. The governor has said he is not excited about it.
  • A competing group of Colorado end users has formed a small committee to develop a similar plan to Mr. Million’s, which they think will better serve their customers. It would not be private but rather would be a group of counties working together.

Mr. Million’s project has gotten a number of Wyoming groups excited about working against the water diversion effort.

They range from Wyoming’s governor to local chambers of commerce and government entities in Sweetwater County to environmentalists concerned about the effect such a project would have on wildlife and trees.

“I personally don’t like the project and don’t intend to support it,” Gov. Dave Freudenthal said in his Thursday, April 16, capitol press conference. “I think I have to be fair and hear it out, but I’ve never liked trans-basin diversion. I think there are an incredible number of unanswered questions about the implications of their taking the water from the point they’re taking it, for the management of the Upper Green and the rest of that area out there.”

A Wyoming Outdoor Council spokesman, Steve Jones, said he thought it “could affect raptors and other avian species could be affected, too. We are worried about all those ripple effects from lower flows.”

It would not be smart to underestimate Mr. Million and his Million Conservation Resource Group. He has hired a top-notch team in Colorado and his project has strong backing in that state. The Denver Post has strongly editorialized for its approval as a way to soothe bitter fighting in that state between Front Range water consumers and west slope communities, who want to hoard their water.

It could be instructive to look at water a little further west.

The white 'ring' indicates the declining water levels

The white 'ring' indicates the declining water levels

I just returned from a trip that involved crossing Hoover Dam in Nevada. To see how low Lake Mead is these days was totally shocking. It must be 250 feet lower than it once was.

This is causing havoc in that watershed and some folks think Mead will be dry in a few decades. Could a similar fate await Flaming Gorge?

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, like the Green River, gets much of its water from snow and glaciers high in the Wind River Mountain Range. I look out my window at that range every day.

It is a fact that our glaciers are disappearing at a rapid rate. What happens once these glaciers melt and are no more? It will negatively affect the current ample stream flows, which were the cornerstone of the science behind this $4 billion project. Could we see a time when the fantastic Green River is reduced to a dry riverbed?

If the amount of water coming off the mountain is much less today and in the near future than it was back when these water compacts were signed by the states, it would sure indicate that the science was flawed when these promoters dreamed up the project.

It would behoove all Wyomingites to watch what happens with this project and get behind efforts to stop it.

And we would encourage our government officials, at all levels, to get excited about what this loss of water could mean to citizens and to the future generations of Wyoming.

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com

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Additional Resources:

Public Notice, Environmental Impact Statement, US Army Corps of Engineers, .pdf document

Related Articles:

Forbes.com, April 12, 2009, “Corps to study Wyoming-Colorado water pipeline” (pdf)

AmericanWhitewater.org, details on scoping meetings, “Public Scoping Announced for Green River Pumpback”

The Denver Post, April 15, 2009, “Concerns Raised About Wyo-Col Water Pipeline”

Casper Star Tribune, Editorial, April 16, 2009, “Flaming Gorge Project Raises Many Questions”

Casper Star Tribune, Resident Response, April 16, 2009, “Residents: Proposed Pipeline Would Affect Industry, Quality of Life, Fish”

Casper Star Tribune, Governor’s Response, April 16, 2009, “Gov: Water Diversion Potential Endangered Species Concern”

Coyote Gulch, commentary on Green River Water Pipeline Plans, “Flaming Gorge pipeline: How will it effect endangered species?”

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Published on April 20, 2009

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