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Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Questions and Answers

A lot of questions hang in the air around the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline. This page provides aswers to many of them.

Click on the boxes below to see the answers to many of the vexing questions posed by this controversial project.

Q: Who is actually proposing this project?

There are multiple groups considering this project, though all proposal concepts are similar and would have almost identical impacts.

  • Aaron Million proposed the idea 5 years ago; since then he’s tried to drum up interest from private investors and others. He initiated a permit request with the Army Corps in 2009; that process was terminated in July, 2011.
  • Water users from the South-Metro area on the Front Range are also considering this proposal. Some initiated the “Task Force” concept and are currently asking the State of Colorado to provide nearly $150,000.
    • - With $150,000 we could purchase over 1,200 low flow toilets and save millions of gallons of water a year.

Q: Will the pipeline save Colorado agriculture?

First, the pipeline would deliver water at a price farmers cannot afford. Second, the pipeline could jeopardize Colorado agriculture by pushing Colorado to the limits of the State's share of the Colorado River.

  • Great uncertainty remains about how much water is left for Colorado to develop.
  • Over-development could threaten drinking water supplies for millions of Colorado residents.
  • If we over-develop our share, it puts existing agriculture at great risk.
    • - We could have to curtail enormous amounts of agriculture on the West Slope and the Front Range, in order to meet legal obligations to downstream states.
    • - Fallowing for one or multiple years would cause great economic uncertainty for farmers.
  • Many other factors stress our agricultural economy.

Q: Are there alternatives to the pipeline?

There are less expensive, faster, and less controversial solutions.

  • The State, water utilities, and citizens should continue with smarter choices.
  • Focus on conservation, sharing water with agriculture, and recycling water.
  • A proposal like the WISE project is a great example, where Denver Water will share some of its unused return flows with South Metro cities.

Q: Just how big would this project be?

It would be the biggest water project in Colorado history.

  • A 500 mile pipeline is of unprecedented size for a Colorado water project.
  • It would be like bringing water to Denver from the Yellowstone River in Montana, the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska, from Lake Powell in Utah, or the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico.
  • It would divert 25% of the Green River's flow - and an even greater percentage in dry years.
  • The enormous size of the pipeline far exceeds needs of Front Range cities.

Q: How much would the pipeline cost?

Pipeline water would be the most expensive water in Colorado history.

  • Last year, a State of Colorado report estimated it would cost $ 7-9 billion to construct. [$9 billion would represent half of Colorado's entire annual state government budget of $18 billion.]
  • It could require huge taxpayer subsidies to construct - money we don't have.
  • Even if "only" a conservative cost of $4.5 billion, the cost per gallon is 15 times more than several currently proposed small structural projects.
  • It's three times as much as today's most expensive new water supplies.
  • Agricultural irrigators are least able to pay; if the project were to subsidize them, it would become yet more expensive for city use.

Q: Can we afford it?

Our fiscal situation means no money for speculative projects.

  • Many other projects for the public benefit (e.g., highway improvements, schools, libraries, and repairing existing water infrastructure) are more urgent priorities.
  • The Colorado Water Conservation Board has already spent $40,000 on this project - there's no reason they should throw good money after bad.
  • There are already other stakeholder forums, like the IBCC, that are considering this project, but the pipeline proponents wants the state to pay for a special task force with their special rules.
  • State funds should not support the Project nor fund the proposed "Task Force."
    • - Taxpayer funds should not further a private developer's water scheme, nor should state money foot the bill if promoters of sprawl take on risky debt.
    • - The Task Force request for $150,000 should be rejected.

Q: Will this project generate electricity or use it?

The pipeline would be a net user of energy.

  • You can't escape basic physics - water is heavy and it requires energy to move it up and over the Continental Divide and across hundreds of miles.
  • Moving that water will require energy, with air emissions estimated to be comparable to burning 48 million gallons of gasoline each year.
  • Taking water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir means that less hydropower would be generated at dams on the Green and Colorado rivers.
  • A "pumped storage" facility has been talked about in the news - possibly generating 1000 MW of hydropower. But this type of facility would require two reservoirs, and a power plant to pump water between the reservoirs. In total, it would consume more energy than it generates.
    • - A pumped storage facility uses two reservoirs, pumps water to the upper reservoir when power is cheap, then runs it down through turbines to the lower reservoir, generating electricity, when power is expensive. It would require two reservoirs in the mountains near the Front Range, and an electric utility that wants to buy the power.

Q: What will be the impact on Fish?

It could threaten the last great refuge for endangered fish in the Green.

  • Species of native warm water fish listed under the Endangered Species Act still survive in the Green. Reductions in flows could threaten their continued existence.
  • Recovery of the fish to healthy populations is required to avoid imposing potentially drastic restrictions on thousands of existing water users.
  • Over the last 10 years, Colorado and other states in the Upper Colorado River Basin have spent over $100 Million and countless hours/agreements to recover the fish; we're making strides to ensuring they have a strong future. This project could jeopardize all of that.
  • In addition to providing habitat for endangered fish, the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam is also a world class trout fishery.

Q: How will this affect recreation on the West Slope?

The pipeline is likely to have a tremendous impact on the recreation and tourism economy in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.

  • This proposal would cause the water levels in the reservoir to fluctuate wildly, making it difficult to operate a marina, for example. It would also change the flows that come out of the reservoir, making it hard to operate rafting and fishing tours on the Green River
  • The Green runs through Dinosaur National Monument, a key destination; reduced flows will lead to reduced tourism.
  • In some years the recreation industry could see a large drop in profits and visitors.

Q: How will this affect businesses on the West Slope of Colorado?

The pipeline - and the resulting drop in recreation and tourism - could affect a very important part of the regional economy.

  • Businesses that rely on tourism and recreation need healthy flows in the rivers. These businesses include the commercial fishing and rafting guide operations, but also the hotels, restaurants, and retail stores that depend on tourism revenues.
  • If Colorado over-develops our water supplies, it could affect many other rivers in our state, too.

Q: Is this what the State is supposed to do, help study water projects?

The State's Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) is already studying large new supplies.

  • The IBCC has been looking at large "new supply" projects in a collaborative manner with representatives from across the state.
  • The Flaming Gorge "task force" would embark on a redundant mission.
  • Project proponents are trying an end-run around a collaborative process, and want the State to foot the bill.

Q: Are federal agencies studying this project, too?

The Army Corps of Engineers just officially terminated its analysis of the pipeline proposal.

  • In July, 2011, the Corps decided that project proponent Aaron Million's project purpose and need was uncertain, and cancelled his permit application. Then Million misled the public, suggesting that it was his decision to end the analysis.
  • While Million paid for the technical work completed by the Army Corps, federal staff time was spent on a fool's errand. Projects not ready for prime time should not waste taxpayer resources.
  • Million may start over with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
    • - Million will have to start from square one, with a new project purpose.
    • - FERC analysis will be just as rigorous as the Army Corps.

Q: Is there enough water for such a giant pipeline?

That's a huge unanswered question that must be answered before going farther.

  • It's not "magic" water; it would count against Colorado's share from Colorado River.
  • It will limit future opportunities for Colorado cities and farmers west of the Divide to develop water.
  • Over-development would tip the apple-cart, interfering with existing Front Range uses (which rely on West Slope Water) or forcing dramatic reductions in West Slope agriculture.
  • A few communities might benefit at the cost of other communities all across the state.

More information about the pipeline project:

For a more in-depth assessment of the Flaming Gorge pipeline's impacts, costs, and alternatives, visit this page on the WRA website.