Flaming Gorge Pipeline
Economic Analysis of Flaming Gorge Pipeline: "Most Expensive Water in Colorado History"
A study of the economics behind the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline, commissioned by WRA, reveals that it would produce the most expensive water ever seen in Colorado. But the costs of this project aren't only limited to paying at the tap. The region from where the water will be taken will suffer a multi-million ollar economic hit to its recreation economy, and the entire state of Colorado will bear added risks because of the project.
The project - estimated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to cost $7 to $9 billion - would provide water two to ten times more expensive than water from other proposed or recently developed water projects. The report finds Flaming Gorge water would cost up to $4,700 per acre-foot per year, compared to several other proposed projects expected to cost less than $700 per acre-foot per year.
Our investigation revealed:
FERC Finds Million Application "Deficient"
An application for an environmental review of the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline, submitted by Aaron Million's Wyco Power and Water Inc., has been found deficent by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In requesting that Mr. Million provide greater specificity in his plans and fill-in gaps in information, the agency also appears to question the appropriateness of being the lead agency for the project's review:
"Because the Commission would only have jurisdiction with regard to the proposed hydroelectric development, which is only one component of the proposed 501-mile-long water supply pipeline project, construction of substantial parts of the overall project may require permits from other federal agencies. For the 3,212 acres of federal land you identify in exhibit 3, please identify the responsible federal agencies that manage those lands."
Just days before the Colorado Water Conservation Board meets to decide on funding a task force to look at Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposals, three billboards have gone up in the town where they will meet to remind the board what's at stake. Set against the parched backdrop of the Colorado River Delta, a message rings out loudly that "This'll only cost you $9 Billion."
The proposed pipeline would deplete the Green River, the Colorado River's largest tributary, removing up to 25% of its flow. The reduction would dry-up the part of the western regional economy that depends on the river and the reservoir, increase the risks to other water users, and impose enormous economic burdens on potential customers.
The billboards direct viewers to go to the website stopflaminggorgepipeline.org where they can add their names to a petition that already has over 20,000 signatures on it. The petition will be presented to the decision-makers in Colorado's water community who are determining if public funds should be used to advance the pipeline concept.
Wyco Power and Water the New Name Behind Pipeline
Flaming Gorge pipeline proponent Aaron Million has filed papers with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a review of his "Regional Watershed Supply Project" concept. The documents lists the organization behind the proposal as "Wyco Power and Water, Inc." In his previous application for environmental review for his pipeline proposal with the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Million Conservation Resource Group was the permit applicant.
The Public Raises Its Voice Over Flaming Gorge Pipeline
On Wednesday, July 27th, over 7,400 people joined a telephone town hall meeting to voice their concerns and questions about the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline. Click here to see, and hear, more about the meeting.
See the answers to the questions raised by the public during this meeting by visiting this page on the WRA site.
"Pipe dream" is a nightmare
A huge, multi-billion dollar pipeline has been proposed to bring water hundreds of miles from the Green River, near the Wyoming - Utah border, to Colorado’s Front Range. Though touted by proponents as the answer to anticipated future water shortages for cities and farmers in Colorado, a closer look reveals it would be an enormous gamble with potentially huge economic consequences for communities, and severe impacts to habitat, recreation, and climate. There are better alternatives to the Flaming Gorge pipeline for meeting the growing water needs for many decades into the future.
The Flaming Gorge pipeline, also known as the “Million” pipeline, would pump water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southwestern Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado. The project has been proposed by two different entities - Aaron Million, a private developer, and a coalition of small water utilities in Colorado and Wyoming. In July 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers terminated its environmental review of Aaron Million's version of the project. The Colorado-Wyoming coalition, however, pushes forward, and has asked the State of Colorado to fund ongoing studies, at a cost of $150,000.
- The Flaming Gorge pipeline would be one of the largest water supply projects ever built. The total length of the proposed pipeline is 560 miles. As the crow flies, that is comparable to Denver tapping the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico; Lake Mead in Nevada; or the Missouri River in Kansas City, Missouri. The project would dwarf most other major Western supply projects. For example, the Central Arizona Project is only 336 miles long and was built over twenty years ago, at a cost of $4 billion.
- It would be the most expensive project in Colorado’s history. According to analyses by the CWCB, construction costs would exceed $6 billion and annual operating costs would amount to $217 million.
- The project would pump 225,000 AF of water to the Front Range of Colorado each year (and 25,000 AF to Wyoming customers). That volume is equivalent to a football field covered in a column of water 43 miles high. It could potentially supply the water needs of approximately 1.1 - 1.4 million new residents of Colorado.
- In 2009, Million provided the Corps several “letters of interest” for water from the project. Over half of the letters proposed to use the water for agricultural uses. Agricultural users, however, would require substantial subsidies in order to afford the water.
The proposed project would have wide-reaching effects everything that relies on the Green River. For example:
- Terrestrial Habitat: The 560-mile long pipeline could cross critical habitat for elk and other species, increasing the risk of spreading non-native species like zebra mussels into Front Range watersheds.
- Recreation: It could decrease the surface area of Flaming Gorge reservoir. Visitors to Flaming Gorge would see a lake that was 5 to 12 square miles smaller due to the pipeline. This could impact the local tourism and recreational industries.
- Fish Habitat: The project would impact flows and habitat in the Green River below Flaming Gorge, home to a world-famous trout fishery, Dinosaur National Monument, and key habitat for four endangered fish species.
- Carbon Emissions: Pumping the water over the Continental Divide would require a tremendous amount of energy -- an estimated 56 MW of power (assuming the pipeline can generate some hydroelectric power on the downhill side). If powered by electricity from Wyoming, it would release the equivalent emissions of burning 48 million gallons of gasoline each year. In addition, it would reduce the amount of water available for hydropower generation at Flaming Gorge dam and all other reservoirs downstream.
In 2007, the Bureau of Reclamation estimated that, at most, only 165,000 AF of water is available -- not the 250,000 AF that water developers propose to tap.
Climate change is projected to increase temperatures and reduce available water supply in the Colorado basin. According to the CWCB, Colorado may have no water left in its allocation of Colorado River water. The Million Project would increase the likelihood of a “Compact Call” on the Colorado River -- an event that would impact all Coloradans that rely on the river, including many Front Range cities.
Colorado has other options to meet new municipal water demands. In fact, cities and utilities are pursuing many of these options today. These options include:
- Urban water conservation -- often the cheapest, easiest alternative to developing new supplies.
- Reuse -- using highly treated wastewater for industrial purposes and outdoor irrigation stretches existing supplies.
- Voluntary water sharing with agriculture -- there is increasing interest in flexible arrangements in which willing farmers lease water to cities. For example, the SuperDitch facilitates leases between farmers in the Arkansas Basin and cities.
- Small-scale storage and re-purposing existing storage to meet changing needs. The Chatfield Reallocation Project is a good example of using existing storage to meet new demands. Our Filling the Gap report details other alternatives.
As of July 14, 2011, The US Army Corps of Engineers terminated their environmental impact study of Aaron Million's pipeline proposal. Read the notice of Permit Application Withdrawal.
The Army Corps of Engineers was preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which they expect to complete in 2016. At least 16 federal, state, and local government agencies were cooperating agencies in developing the EIS.
WRA submitted scoping comments and subsequent letters to the Corps of Engineers: