Colo users look for Million pipeline alternativesWritten by Christy Hemken
The project he spoke of was Aaron Million’s proposal to pipe several thousand acre-feet of Colorado’s unallocated water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range every year.
“We’re a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, which includes 13 water providers on the Front Range of Colorado, most on the south end of Denver,” continued Yeager. “We’re tied to the Denver Basin aquifer system, and we service 350,000 people today from our groundwater, which is depleted on a daily basis. We’ve been looking all over Colorado and at this project in Wyoming, looking for the cleanest water we can find that’s a secure source of renewable water we can use on the Front Range of Colorado.”
“We’re not looking at Wyoming water,” he explained to the group of Rock Springs citizens. “We’re looking at water in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, but water that is Colorado’s entitlement under the Colorado River Compact.”
“We don’t know how much water is available in the reservoir, how much it would cost to move the water or how many players are in the game. The first thing we did a year and a half ago was to come to Wyoming and start meeting with Tim in Cheyenne and water providers in Wyoming,” he said, referencing Tim Wilson, director of the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities. “We want to form a coalition to work collaboratively to determine if there’s adequate water for a project, but not what Mr. Million proposed.”
He said he doesn’t have any numbers yet or any hard facts on how the proposal would work, but he says his group is looking first at due diligence, to find what they truly believe to be the best source of water. “We need to spend the money and have our engineers work with the Bureau of Reclamation to figure out how much is actually available in the reservoir under Colorado’s entitlement.”
“If we were to find there was adequate water in the reservoir to develop Colorado’s water, we’d like to work with Wyoming. We need to know what your needs are, and we hope, through due diligence, to sit down and talk one-on-one,” said Yeager, adding, “Is there something that benefits, you, us, the rest of Wyoming and the rest of Colorado?”
“We’ve watched the way Million has proposed everything, and it’s been slipshod and out of bounds,” he said. “We’re looking at a project that would be totally a public entities project, with no privatization. We believe that in the long term any project that is successful will have local, public and federal dollars involved, because there’s no way Parker, Colo. can afford to pump all the way across Wyoming to Parker alone.”
“We’re really here tonight to try to open a door to say we want to talk to you,” said Yeager. “We want to hear your concerns before we step off a cliff and start spending a lot of money and making more people angry. We’re all in this game together.
“The downstream states are more than willing to let water flow out of Colorado and Wyoming, but we have entitlements under the compact, and we ought to work together to develop those compact rights.”
Regarding Colorado’s generous use of water, an audience member commented that those on the Front Range should reduce their generous use of water and learn to live within their water budget and forego the “unreal lifestyle choices.”
Yeager said, “We are going to be as conservative as we can in the use of water. We’re to the point now where we’re losing production in our wells, and if we’ve got to stop lawn watering, that’s what we’ll do. But it’s a standard of living, and as long as they pay for the water they use I won’t stop it unless I run out of water.”
Harriet Hageman, attorney for the group, pointed out that Wyoming already supplies that kind of water to Las Vegas, Nev., Phoenix, Ariz. and California.
Regarding using water from the Platte River system, Hageman said there are two issues with that idea. The first is the North Platte Decree entered in 1945 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which involved equitable apportionment on the North Platte. “There are only three of those cases in the U.S., and Wyoming is party to two of them,” she said.
“On top of the Decree, we have the Program, which was forced upon us by the Endangered Species Act for endangered and threatened species in central Nebraska,” she noted. “Pursuant to the program, we are not allowed to increase use over 1997 conditions, and we have to mitigate an increase in use over that time.”
Yeager noted that Million filed for three different areas of diversion from the Green River, calling those alternatives. “We have to look at taking water off the South Platte and look at what’s the least damaging alternative. Those will all have to be looked at before any water can be moved.”
The South Platte water that is available for Colorado use, Yeager said, is not a good alternative because it would require too much reverse osmosis treatment to clean.
“What I worry about as an attorney, Wyomingite and an Upper Basin person is finding a way we can come to some kind of a project, concept and way to benefit the people in this room and protect our rivers in Wyoming,” said Hageman. “This project takes water out of the tail end of Wyoming, but it does remove it from the basin and we lose return flow benefits. However, I think the bigger philosophical discussion needs to be, how can we come together to put together a project and ideas that will cut off the addicts down below with 12 shower heads in Las Vegas, some kind of a project to get the groups together to benefit upper basin states, instead of lower basin states.”
“We’re trying to do this the right way and open the door for some dialogue,” said Yeager of the proposal. “That’s much better than people in the back of the room throwing spears at us. We want to open the door, take questions and hold our hands out and say let’s talk and see what we can do.”
As the proposal moves forward the group will continue to draw together numbers and data. “We’re putting money together to look at the front end of this thing,” said Yeager.