Wyoming governor blasts proposed water pipeline | AspenTimes.com

Wyoming governor blasts proposed water pipeline

Ben Neary
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal opposes entrepreneur Aaron Million’s proposal to build a pipeline from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range and questions whether the plan justifies a federal environmental study.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing an environmental study of the proposed 560-mile-long pipeline, which could carry up to 250,000 acre feet of water a year from the Green River, in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir area, near Wyoming’s southwestern border with Utah.

“I’m not sure they have adequate definition of the need for the project to even do the analysis,” Freudenthal said Tuesday. “I think this is just a rich guy who just wants to move water.”

The proposed $3 billion pipeline would be privately funded. It would run east across Wyoming and then south to Pueblo, Colo.

Although the water would be pumped out of the river in Wyoming, it would come from Colorado’s share of water under the Colorado River compacts. The compacts are long-standing agreements among western states on the division of water.

Million, of Fort Collins, Colo., said Tuesday that he has lined up customers for the water in both Colorado and Wyoming, including municipalities and agricultural users. He declined to name them, saying he would inform the Corps of Engineers at the appropriate time.

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Million said he believes Freudenthal flatly opposes diverting water from one basin to another.

“To a certain degree, I think when you look at the problems in the region, this is the second best alternative,” Million said of his project. “The first best alternative is for everybody to move to Missouri.”

He said studies have concluded that the Front Range is short more than 450,000 acre feet of water a year to meet its needs – far more than his pipeline could provide. He said that if the environmental review finds his project would hurt the river or communities, “I’ll be the first to put a fork in my own project.”

Freudenthal submitted written comments on the project to the corps in Colorado on Monday, the deadline for commenting on issues the corps should address in an environmental study.

The study needs to consider how taking water from the river would affect endangered species and recreation, Freudenthal said.

He also said Million’s water marketing plan should be disclosed, and that the federal agency should consider how much cheaper water would be if public entities built the pipeline.

The prospect of pumping water from the Green River raises concerns over preserving Wyoming’s unused share of water in the Colorado River system, Freudenthal said. He said that any Colorado diversion would always be considered a junior water right under Wyoming law in times of water shortage.

The state governments in Colorado and Utah haven’t commented on Million’s plan.

Alexandra L. Davis, assistant director for water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Tuesday her state hasn’t formed an opinion yet about the project.

John Harja, director of the Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office in Salt Lake City, said Utah intends to file comments on the project this week. He declined to discuss them.

Rena Brand, project manager for the Corps of Engineers in Littleton, Colo., said a draft study should be completed in 2012 and a final version in 2014. The pipeline could be built within two years of the final study’s completion, Million said.

Some local governments in Utah, which holds most of the Green River downstream from the proposed diversion, have expressed concern about the project.

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