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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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More than 5,000 public comments were sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week opposing the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline, which would pump more than 250,000 acre-feet of water annually over 500 miles from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Colorado’s Front Range. The project would suck massive amounts of water out of the Green and Colorado rivers in Utah, unleashing disastrous impacts on those river ecosystems, four species of endangered fish—the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail chub—and human communities dependent on those rivers. The commission is currently evaluating whether to grant a preliminary permit for the project.
“Burning fossil fuels to pump river water across 500 miles to feed urban sprawl is a ludicrous idea—and that’s what the public told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s hard to imagine a worse proposal for the already over-allocated Colorado River system that’s beset by a warming climate, declining flows and disappearing native fish populations.”
This week’s public comments come on the heels of formal intervention in the commission’s process filed last week by the Colorado River Protection Coalition—a coalition of 10 conservation groups, including the center. The coalition asserts that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline is unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act and adversely affect four national wildlife refuges. Part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area. The coalition also argued that the permit should be denied because the applicant, Wyco, failed to meet several requirements during a previous attempt at permitting a nearly identical project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The new batch of comments this week came from online action alerts created by the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice.
“The opposition to this project is amazing,” said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice. “The pipeline would devastate the Green River and severely harm the Colorado River downstream—the public is strongly speaking out against this pipeline scheme.”
Wyco previously sought a permit for the pipeline from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In July 2011 the Corps terminated its review of the project because Wyco missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the Corps. A few months later, Wyco redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Despite the modifications, the project remains an energy hog—at least nine air-polluting, natural gas-fired pumping stations would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Wyco’s president has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would use more energy than the project would create through hydropower.
Since its inception, the Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with opposition in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado, which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Colorado is already a parched state with severely depleted rivers, while the majority of the water in Colorado’s cities is used to keep lawns green for three months in the hot, dry summer across sprawling suburban landscapes.
The coalition’s intervention comments can be downloaded here.
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A coalition of 10 conservation groups from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona—the Colorado River Protection Coalition—moved to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) review of the Regional Watershed Supply Project (a.k.a., the “Flaming Gorge Pipeline”) Dec. 15. FERC is currently evaluating a preliminary permit application for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline from Wyco Power and Water Inc. FERC allows members of the public with a stake in projects to intervene in preliminary permit proceedings, and the Colorado River Protection Coalition, represented by Earthjustice, has called upon FERC to deny the permit on numerous grounds.
"The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States," said McCrystie Adams of Earthjustice, the coalition's lead attorney. "The pipeline would devastate the Green River, one of the West’s last great rivers and a sanctuary for native fish and wildlife, and severely harm the Colorado River downstream."
In its intervention comments, the Colorado River Protection Coalition asserted that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline is extremely unlikely to be permitted because it would likely violate the Endangered Species Act, would adversely affect four national wildlife refuges, and part of the project would be located in a U.S. Forest Service roadless area. The coalition also argued that the permit should be denied because the applicant failed to meet various requirements during a previous attempt at permitting a nearly identical project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Further, the coalition asserted that the pipeline is an extremely environmentally damaging water supply project that would irrevocably harm the Green and Colorado Rivers, not a “hydropower project,” and thus FERC is not the appropriate agency to lead federal review of the proposal.
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would severely harm the Wyoming landscape it crosses,” said Steve Jones of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Our state’s heritage, wildlife and economy are dependent on protecting roadless and wilderness areas.”
“Four endangered fish—the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail chub—are dependent on the water this pipeline proposes to drain out of the Green and Colorado Rivers,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff, Arizona. “The pipeline would spell disaster for those fish and the river ecosystems we and they depend on. It’s a foolish proposal in the face of global warming and projected declines in river flows.”
“The Green River flows through Utah’s largest roadless area, provides 40 percent of the water entering the Colorado River at Lake Powell each year, and supports a world-famous trout fishery averaging 6,000-8,000 fish per mile,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “This catastrophic proposal would not only mar these treasures, it would forever alter life in Utah.”
The applicant previously sought a permit for the pipeline from a different federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). In July of 2011, the corps terminated its review of the project because the applicant missed multiple deadlines and did not provide information requested by the corps. A few months later, the applicant redesigned the project to include some incidental hydropower components and requested review through FERC. Despite the modifications, the project remains a huge energy hog—at least nine air-polluting natural gas-fired pumping stations would be required to pump the water uphill across Wyoming and over the Continental Divide. Wyco’s president has acknowledged that pumping the water uphill would use more energy than the project would create through hydropower.
“We know this project would burn more energy than it produces,” said John Spahr of the Sierra Club. “Claiming it is a hydropower project is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to make an end-run around federal law.”
Since its inception, the extremely controversial Flaming Gorge Pipeline has met with great opposition in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The water would go to the Front Range of Colorado which is projected to double in population in the next 50 years. Colorado is already a parched state with severely depleted rivers while the majority of the water in Colorado’s cities is used to keep lawns green for three months in the hot, dry summer across sprawling suburban landscapes.
Duane Short of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance noted, “The coalition believes that Colorado and other western citizens are beginning to realize that unbridled consumption of water from our rivers and aquifers will leave our precious water resources depleted leading to even more severe water shortages for our children and grandchildren. We hope the public will work with us to prevent this shortsighted and irresponsible water grab.”
“The Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be a flaming disaster for Colorado,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “The pipeline would be a devastating step backwards for water supply policy and river protection in Colorado and the Southwest U.S.—our coalition will work as long and hard as it takes to stop this project.”
This coalition's intervention is one of several being filed by public interest groups and local communities. More than a hundred public comments urging FERC to deny the preliminary permit have already been filed before the Dec. 19 deadline. Comments are posted on FERC's website here (search for Docket Number: P-14263).
The Colorado River Protection Coalition’s comments are posted here.
A map of the pipeline's proposed 550 mile route across Wyoming and down through Colorado is available by clicking here.
For more information, click here.
You can help the Green River continue to nurture fish and wildlife, recreational opportunities and local communities by working with us to stop one of the biggest, most expensive and most environmentally destructive water projects in the history of the Rocky Mountain West by submitting your comments by Dec. 14.
The Green River is one of the last, great Western rivers. From headwaters high in Wyoming's majestic Wind River Mountains, it flows south 730 miles before merging with the Colorado River, deep in Utah's Canyonlands National Park. But now a developer is proposing to build the "Flaming Gorge Pipeline," which would take up to 81 billion gallons of water per year from the Green River and pipe it more than 500 miles to the Colorado Front Range. Water from the Flaming Gorge Pipeline would be used to water lawns and help fuel the future growth of the sprawling metropolitan areas of the Colorado Front Range, and could support increased oil and gas production and fracking in Colorado as well. No river could sustain this type of water diversion without dire consequences.
Taking this water would harm endangered native fish found only in the Green River and a handful of other nearby waters. It would damage not only the Green River's fragile ecosystem, but also that of the downstream Colorado River. It would likely harm the rafting, fishing and outfitting economy of the Green and Colorado Rivers and make it even less likely that the Colorado River will again reach the Gulf of California.
The pipeline's developer has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a preliminary permit for a "potential hydropower development." The permit, if granted, will provide the developer a first-in-time right to apply for a license to build and operate the pipeline. We and our allies feel that it is critical to help FERC see the serious flaws of this project and stop the process now, before federal resources are expended on a pointless investigation.
This project—with a projected price tag of up to $9 billion and potential impacts across the Green and Colorado River basins—is the wrong answer to the region's forecasted water shortfalls. We need a comprehensive approach to meeting future water needs—one that is based on the conservative and prudent use of water and the infrastructure and supplies that we have already developed. If we continue with business-as-usual, we will drain our iconic and invaluable rivers but still face a future water supply crisis. Rather than drain our rivers further while irresponsibly punting this issue to future generations, we should adopt a responsible and comprehensive approach today.
Take a moment to send in your comments. Thank you for your support.
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The Change.org online petition to restore water to the Colorado River Delta has hit more than 2,500 signatures and is supported by 25 conservation groups.
For more than a decade the Colorado River has been drained completely dry before it reaches the Gulf of California—5 trillion gallons of water drained out (view an image here) by thirsty cities and farms across the Southwest U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. and Mexico are currently negotiating a Bi-National Agreement through the International Boundary Waters Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation that may restore a small amount of water to the devastated ecosystem. Twenty-five conservation organizations from the top of the Colorado River basin to the bottom are supporting the petition.
"The Colorado River system is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, nourishing some of the richest and most diverse wetlands in the region and providing key habitat for endangered fishes and wildlife," said Erik Molvar, wildlife biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Wyoming. "It would be irresponsible to allow this lifeblood to be drained dry."
The Bi-National Agreement could better manage the Colorado River so that water supply reliability can be enhanced for cities, farms and natural ecosystems benefiting both the U.S. and Mexico. If structured properly, the agreement would allow both countries to have better drought supplies while also addressing the devastating drought of water in the Delta ecosystem.
"The Colorado River is critical to San Diego communities, just as it is vital to the plants, birds and other animals in the Delta area," said Gabe Solmer of San Diego Coastkeeper. "We must work together to share and safeguard these precious resources."
The Change.org online action is petitioning U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who oversees the International Boundary Waters Commission, and U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar who oversees the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The negotiators for the State and Interior Departments are predicting that an agreement may be reached in December of 2011 or January of 2012.
“The more people learn about the degraded Colorado River Delta, the more people want to step up and provide support,” said Gary Wockner of the Save the Colorado campaign, which is leading the petition effort. “These 25 conservation groups are proud to provide positive support to the U.S. negotiators to help bring the Colorado River Delta back to life.”
For more information, click here.
The following conservation organizations are supporting the petition: Save the Colorado, Sierra Club—Rocky Mountain Chapter, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Living Rivers—Colorado Riverkeeper, The Environmental Group, Western Rivers Institute, Blue Legacy, The Ocean Foundation, Clean Water Fund, San Diego Coastkeeper, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, American Whitewater, Waterkeeper Alliance, Food and Water Watch, Colorado Ocean Coalition, Glen Canyon Institute, Save the Colorado River Delta: Sonoran Institute, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, American Rivers, Citizens for Dixie's Future, Great Basin Water Network, Redford Center: River Red Film, Planning and Conservation League of California, and Defenders of Wildlife.