Governor: Protect Wyo’s future water rightsWritten by Jennifer Womack
In a five-page letter dated July 27, the Governor lists 10 points he says need to be fully considered as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drafts its Environmental Impact Statement on a Million Conservation Resource Group (MCRG) proposal. The proposed project could result in the diversion of 250,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir to be piped 560 miles to southeastern Wyoming and the Front Range of Colorado. Of the delivery, 25,000 would go to users in the Platte River Basin and the remaining 225,000 acre-feet would be delivered to the South Platte and Arkansas River basins in Colorado.
“While it can be argued that the ‘purpose’ of the MCRG is to close the gap on SWSI (Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative), the need is not demonstrable since no community has expressed an interest in purchasing any of the water which is to be provided,” says Freudenthal. He also points out that State of Colorado officials haven’t taken a position as to whether or not they support the project’s use of the state’s Colorado River Compact allocation.
Freudenthal further states that diversion of the water must be done without compromising ongoing efforts to conserve four endangered species that reside within the Upper Colorado River Basin. “In 1988,” says Freudenthal, “the State of Wyoming entered into a cooperative agreement with the Department of the Interior, the Western Area Power Administration, and the states of Colorado and Utah to conduct the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.” Diversion, he said, needs to occur without comprising recovery efforts for the humpback chub, the Colorado pikeminnow, the razorback sucker and the bonytail.
In a more general sense, Freudenthal cautions the Corps about the affect dewatering could have on the system’s water temperatures and the fish that live there. Reduced water levels could also negatively impact the area’s recreational values.
Affects on the Wyoming toad’s habitat near Lake Hattie and increased salinity that may result from concentration of the water in Flaming Gorge are also among Freudenthal’s concerns.
He also addresses the proposal’s financial aspects. “While the MCRG concept is currently proposed as a privately-financed undertaking,” he writes, “it is incumbent on the Corps to analyze the project costs, technical feasibility and logistics of the project both as a privately and publicly financed enterprise. The water marketing plan of the MCRG, including costs and fees to potential customers, should be disclosed and compared against an alternative whereby the proposal is independently implemented by public entities.”
In closing Freudenthal says, “I would strongly caution that you not confuse my calm expressions of issues with a change in position on the project. I remain opposed to this project. My restraint should only be read as respect for the state of Colorado’s rights under the Colorado River Compact. In turn, I expect similar deference to Wyoming’s right to develop its Compact allocation going forward.”
Rena Brand, who is overseeing the Army Corps of Engineer’s work on the project, says her agency received around 700 comments. “Our next step is to review those comments and we put together what’s called a scoping report. That’s a report we do that puts together all of the comments we received.” As part of that report, she says the agency makes an effort to explain how it will address concerns put forth in the comment process. She expects the report to be available in about three to four months at which time her agency will notify the media and post the information on their website.