Colorado has lost its water direction |

Colorado has lost its water direction

Dave Miller
independent water planner
Palmer Lake, Colo.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires balanced water development decisions, based on objective environmental and economic comparisons of all reasonable alternatives.

EPA vetoed Denver’s Two Forks Dam, because its NEPA studies ignored Colorado’s unused Gunnison River entitlements and superior Union Park Pumped-Storage Alternative. Two Forks would have also caused harmful additional depletions from Colorado’s overdepleted South Platte, Blue, Williams Fork and Fraser River environments, with its excessive water rights.

Federal river flow data indicates Colorado’s vast untapped Gunnison River losses to down-river states have been increasing since the 1960s. This costly trend is caused by the Gunnison Basin’s continuing economic conversion from irrigated farming to tourism, and its self-defeating opposition to multipurpose transmountain storage alternatives.

Low value hydropower will be used to fill Union Park’s high altitude, off-river reservoir with up to 1.2 million acre-feet of Colorado’s unused Aspinall Pool water rights during heavy runoff years. These captured federal flood waters will then provide high value peaking power and multiyear drought protection, when and where needed, throughout the Gunnison, Colorado, South Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande river basins.

Union Park’s assured flexible deliveries by gravity will greatly increase the reliability, productivity and quality of the region’s existing water and power resources. Its overall benefit-cost expectations are in the 10 to 1 range. In contrast, traditional Western dams on rivers were built with only 2 to 1 benefit-cost expectations.

– Recent engineering studies indicate most of Colorado’s existing dams would suffer catastrophic failures under today’s safety criteria for probable maximum floods and maximum credible earthquakes. Union Park’s much safer roller-compacted concrete dam and flexible large storage capacity can be managed to help correct Colorado’s serious, but untold, dam safety problems.

– EPA will surely veto those current Front Range water development proposals, which would further dewater and degrade Colorado’s overdepleted Arkansas, South Platte, Eagle, Blue, Williams Fork and Fraser rivers. Such EPA vetoes are guaranteed, if local and state water officials continue to ignore Colorado’s untapped Gunnison water rights and superior Union Park multipurpose storage capabilities.

Coloradans must immediately unite behind an emergency program to develop Colorado’s wasted Gunnison water entitlements and Union Park Pumped-Storage oversight for current and future drought and growth needs of both slopes.

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