Effort to form task force for Wyo. lake under fire

DENVER – Officials representing Colorado river basins will meet Wednesday to consider forming a task force that would study proposals to build a water pipeline from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir to serve Colorado cities.

Some conservationists say it’s a waste of time.

Western Resource Advocates and other groups say no one knows if Colorado River compacts allow the state to divert as much water as some have proposed. Until they do, there’s no sense spending time and money to study plans to tap the reservoir, they say.

Entrepreneur Aaron Million of Fort Collins has been pushing a $3 billion proposal to pump 250,000 acre-feet from the reservoir and Wyoming’s Green River to Colorado. Because his proposal includes a plan to generate hydroelectric power, he has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt its review of his proposal while his team decides whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should permit it instead.

The Corps had said it wouldn’t have a draft environmental impact statement on the plan completed until 2016. It’s unclear whether a FERC review would be any faster.

Meanwhile, Frank Jaeger, manager of the Parker Water & Sanitation District in suburban Denver, has built support from nearly two dozen water providers in both states to study the feasibility of a competing Flaming Gorge pipeline proposal. That study isn’t complete yet, Jaeger said.

Colorado water officials say that by 2050, the state will need at least 190,000 more acre-feet of water to serve a population that is projected to double to about 10 million, even if water projects planned now are completed by then. One acre-foot can supply two households for a year.

Trout Unlimited and others contend Colorado’s water needs can be met through 2050 with smaller water projects, conservation, reusing water, paying farmers to fallow their land and allowing cities to use their water rights during severe droughts.

The groups also say there are cheaper options for providing water to growing Front Range populations than looking to the Flaming Gorge or, specifically, Million’s plan for a 578-mile pipeline, three reservoirs and 16 natural gas-fired pumps.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, notes multistate compacts limit how much water Colorado can use from the river basin.

“We have no idea whether or not Colorado River water is available for this project under the 1922 and 1948 compacts,” he wrote in a memo addressing Million’s proposal.

“This proposal may burst through the ceiling of what is left to develop statewide” in Colorado, said Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study on potential imbalances between water supply and demand in the Colorado River basin, which includes the Green River, isn’t complete yet. Million contends models show there is enough water.

Last month, independent reviewers contracted by water officials concluded that a task force to review potential Flaming Gorge diversions would be valuable. Public documents show $45,000 was requested for that study. Representatives of Colorado’s river basin roundtables are meeting Wednesday in Silverthorne to decide whether to form the task force. Agricultural, environmental and recreational interests have been invited to attend.

Million said despite opposition and delays, he won’t abandon his idea.

“I can see the home corral from here,” he said.