As members of a task force assembled Jan. 12 to consider the viability of a proposed pipeline to ship 80 billion gallons of water each year from the West Slope's Green River to the Front Range, West Slope businesses announced that they are putting together an effort to stop the pipeline. The coalition, known as Protect the Flows, is a group of more than 250 businesses in the seven Colorado River basin states who directly depend on the river and its tributaries for their livelihood.
They plan to present their amassed business opposition of the project to Gov. John Hickenlooper and have already secured resolutions from local governments on the West Slope. The coalition is concerned about the negative impact to the region's recreation industry that would result from draining so much water from the area, and is also alarmed by the up to $9 billion price tag of the project that is estimated by the state, the risk of a potential Colorado River compact call, and future West Slope development.
"We depend on anglers, rafters, birders and hikers coming to our communities to fuel our economy,” said Lisa Jenkins, executive director, Grand Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “This massive siphoning of water will decrease flows in the Green River by 20–25 percent, and cripple the annual $10 billion recreation-based economies that communities like Grand Lake depend on for our survival. Gov. Hickenlooper and The Colorado Water Conservation Board should be taking note of this rather than providing $72,000 in funding for a Flaming Gorge task force.”
Outdoor recreation supports 107,000 jobs in Colorado, according to a 2006 economic impact report from the Outdoor Industry Association. The Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River, feeds a watershed that is a pillar of the region's recreation economy. A recent economic report by conservation group Western Resource Advocates reveals that in addition to producing the most expensive water in Colorado’s history (up to 10 times more than any existing project), the region from where the proposed Flaming Gorge pipeline would take the water will suffer a multi-million dollar economic hit to its recreation economy.
Thus far, the City of Grand Junction, City of Fruita, Mesa County, and Montrose County in Colorado have all passed resolutions opposing the proposed pipeline. Among the concerns expressed by local officials is the exorbitant cost of building a 560-mile pipeline that extends from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Southwest Wyoming over the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado. The state of Colorado estimates the construction cost alone to be somewhere between $7 to $9 billion.
“There are plenty of folks in the state, myself amongst them, who are asking why the state is expending scarce dollar resources on a water proposal that’s by and large looked upon by much of the water community on both sides of the mountains as somewhat of a pipe dream,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca in a Dec. 21 article in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
The task force convening to consider the pipeline, known formally as the Basin Roundtable Project Exploration Committee, is funded by a state grant issued by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The group is scheduled to meet through the rest of the year. Protect the Flows plans to spend the year reminding Gov. Hickenlooper and state officials that public resources would be better spent on more affordable solutions that support recreation industry jobs, such as improving water conservation efforts, water reuse and recycling, and better land-use planning and growth management.
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The Flaming Gorge pipeline would be far too expensive and would harm the Green River’s world-class recreation and tourism economies, businesses and river advocates said Dec. 19.
American Rivers, American Whitewater and the Colorado River Outfitters Association called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to deny a private developer’s preliminary permit application for the massive water project.
“This pipeline is so costly it would result in the most expensive water in Colorado’s history,” said Matt Rice, Colorado Conservation director for American Rivers. "A project of this size, cost, and environmental impact is simply not feasible. And, we have cost effective alternatives for meeting future water demands on the Front Range. FERC should deny this permit and not waste taxpayer dollars studying a project that will never get built.”
"We ask that FERC take a close look at all relevant information regarding the proposed project as they make a decision on the preliminary permit application,” said Nathan Fey, director of the Colorado River Stewardship Program for American Whitewater. “American Whitewater maintains the belief that the project is not feasible, has not proven its compliance with the Endangered Species Act or the Record of Decision on Flaming Gorge Operations, nor is it in the public interest. We are asking FERC to deny the preliminary permit application for these reasons.”
“The Green River is currently a very fragile component of the Colorado River system. Colorado River Outfitters firmly believe that any further compromise of this precious resource would have a devastating effect on the entire river system and on the communities that depend on it,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
The Flaming Gorge Pipeline, also known as the Regional Watershed Supply Project, would divert up to 250,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir out of the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range in Colorado. The project costs are estimated to exceed $6 billion, with water costs over $4500 per acre-foot per year.
The Green River is the largest tributary of the Colorado River, and carves some of the most iconic river canyons in the West, such as Lodore Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument, Desolation-Gray Canyons and Stillwater Canyon in Canyonlands National Park. The Green River sustains world-class recreation and tourism economies, endangered fish species and critical riverside habitats in the Green and Colorado River basins.
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