Million H20 project advancesWritten by Christy Hemken
The process began September 2008 and is on a 33-month timeline to reach a final decision. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for investigating, developing and maintaining the nation’s water and related environmental resources, has taken the lead on the project, which will also involve every federal agency with some regulatory interest in the project, including the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.
As the EIS applicant, Million will ultimately fund the process, for which the Corps has hired a third-party contractor, AECOM Environment, out of Fort Collins, Colo.
“A big project like this has to go through an extensive environmental review looking at the diversion of so much water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir,” says Million’s Wyoming consultant Jeff Fassett of HDR Engineering in Cheyenne. The project would take that water across Wyoming, following Interstate 80, before dropping down into Colorado at Cheyenne. “This project has a whole bunch of issues to review, as it crosses a lot of federal ground.”
However, Fassett says that, at the end of the day, it’s a buried pipeline so many of the project’s effects are temporary and relate to the actual construction of the pipeline, much like in the energy industry. Engineering decisions as to whether the project will consist of one pipe or two are yet to be made. Fassett says if the project consists of a single pipe that pipe would measure around 96 inches in diameter.
“I think this project has drawn a lot of positive attention because it doesn’t involve big new dams – it’s using the infrastructure at Flaming Gorge – and most of the environmental effects are temporary,” notes Fassett. “It’s had some positive review, but any big water project will draw a lot of attention and face scrutiny.”
Another process regarding the project that is currently underway is the required permitting from the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office (SEO). Million has submitted two permit applications – one to divert water from the Green River and/or Flaming Gorge Reservoir (there are several alternate points of diversion under consideration) and intermediate storage in Lake Hattie along the pipeline route.
Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell says he plans to hold two public hearings, one near Green River and the other in Laramie near Lake Hattie. Hearing dates have not yet been scheduled.
“Some of the concerns I’ve been hearing are that this is a large amount of water – 165,000 acre-feet per year – and there are concerns about whether this would hinder Wyoming’s ability to develop their own water rights under the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact,” says Tyrrell.
He adds, “I think we can look toward some protections in that regard if and when the permits are issued. I also hear environmental concerns because of the removal of so much water, but those will be covered in the EIS process.”
Tyrrell says the Compact envisions the development of water in one state for use in another. “Colorado has the right to submit this application, and the fact that this is happening is nothing the drafters of the compact didn’t anticipate,” he says, adding the Wyoming permits would be a recognition of their points of diversion for use in Colorado, which would count against their Compact portion.
“Under Article 9 of the Compact it’s crystal clear the movement of water from any upper basin state into any other is expressly allowed,” says Million, noting this project is similar to Utah’s Lake Powell project that’s moving water from Arizona.
“This concept is exactly the same as it was in the 1890s,” says Million. “It’s the continued historic development of the Upper Basin’s Compact allocation, which has already been going on for 120 years.”
“This is a different animal because of the interstate nature,” says Fassett, noting that some Wyoming users may also utilize the pipeline for transbasin delivery.
Tyrrell says if Wyoming water users use the pipeline for transport they’ll have to apply for a permit on their own points of diversion, which would then be counted against Wyoming’s compact portion.
“This project offers a huge system built primarily for Colorado, but it wouldn’t take much of a change to also move all the water Wyoming could want,” explains Fassett. “It would be a cost-effective way to move water from the Green to the Platte for our growing communities like Cheyenne, Casper and Laramie.”
Fassett says Million has advanced the project, in part, to protect the ag base on the Front Range, where water rights for irrigation are being transferred for municipal use.
“My focus and background is ranching and farming, along with natural resources and environmental issues,” says Million. “Those range from conservation easements to water and various natural resource interests. This project is designed to assist with some of the ag issues in Wyoming and in Colorado, and we’re going to bring in water for agriculture at ag prices.”
Million notes that a critical aspect of the project is to provide an environmentally sound way to move surplus water from the Green River system. “This project uses water that’s above and beyond the needs of endangered species, recreation and hydropower,” he says.
“A lot remains to be seen,” says Tyrrell of the project. “There’s still a lot to happen, and the EIS is a big process.”
Tyrrell says his office will work through the state permit applications, and he’s currently unsure whether those will be granted before or after the EIS is complete.
Fassett says the Corps of Engineers will schedule public scoping meetings as the EIS progresses.
Pending the outcome of the EIS, Million says he hopes to start digging dirt after the passage of the 33-month study. “At this point I think we’re 92 percent home,” he says. “But I don’t know what could crop up on the environmental side that would disallow this project from moving forward.”