Flaming Gorge Pipeline would harm great fishing on the Green River
By Scott Harkins
Fishing, for many of us, is a magic ritual that we learned early. As kids, we went with our dad or our brothers or a favorite uncle, caught our first fish, and the world changed forever. We grew up knowing that almost every moment of fishing on a waterway is spent in relaxed contentment, totally in the present, with only the needs of the moment in mind, indescribably united with the fish, water, forests and mountains.
One of the finest places on Earth I know to experience this is on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam. People come there from all over the world for the fishing experience of a lifetime.
Now this wondrous place is threatened by a plan to build a pipeline that would transport 81 billion gallons of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River above it, 560 miles up and over the Continental Divide, to Colorado’s Front Range.
The plan is so wrong in so many ways.
Most obvious is its unrealistic and excessive cost. State agencies estimate that constructing the pipeline will cost between $7 and $9 billion, with annual operating costs over $123 million. If built, the pipeline would deliver water at a price that would be the most expensive in Colorado’s history. Prices for farmers would be 10 to 20 times what most can afford, and urban households would see their water bills skyrocket.
The environmental costs would be staggering. The pipeline would drain an average of 25 percent of the Green River’s flow each year, which would impact fish and game 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. It would affect flows and the recreational economy of the Colorado River downstream through the Grand Canyon and all the way to Mexico.
Flaming Gorge area is known worldwide for some of the best fishing and hunting in the West. You can find several species of trout in abundance in the reservoir all year, along with kokanee salmon, smallmouth bass and carp. Below the dam on the Green River, the fly fishing is legendary.
But the loss of water sucked out by a pipeline will change all that, and would hurt local economies in the process. Weak flows and low water levels do not foster healthy fish and wildlife. A project of this size could easily decimate the salmon and lake trout populations by increasing water temperatures and salinity levels, harm critical mule deer and pronghorn habit and reduce hunting opportunities, and in turn destroy a $118 million recreation-based economy the communities in the region depend on for survival.
The point is that none of these sacrifices to our natural resources and wildlife are necessary. We absolutely do not need or want to lose recreational opportunities that are at the core of our Western way of life. There are other viable proposed projects on the table that would serve Colorado’s Front Range cities that can be implemented at far lower costs.
I hope you agree with hunters, anglers, local business owners and many civic leaders that in no way should taxpayer money be used to study or support a project that would irrevocably damage the Green River and everything downstream in the Colorado River system.
This Tuesday, during a meeting in Grand Junction, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will be asked to pay $150,000 to establish a task force to investigate the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. The board’s limited resources should not be squandered on such a folly.
Let’s move on to better alternatives, solutions that can sensibly work to meet Colorado’s future water needs: aggressive urban water conservation, water reuse and recycling, better land-use planning and growth management, voluntary sharing agreements between cities and agriculture and some small-scale new storage.
In the end, what draws people to the West is its natural beauty — the grandeur of its mountains, lakes and flowing rivers. More than 2 million people visit Flaming Gorge each year, participating in activities such as fishing, boating, camping, hiking, horseback riding and scenic tours. Many especially come to fish in the magical waters of Flaming Gorge Reservoir or fly fish on the sections of the beautiful and flowing Green River.
Let’s not diminish the water, fish and wildlife that attract millions of sportsmen and recreationists by building an unnecessary, financially unrealistic, environmentally harmful pipeline.
Scott Harkins is a board member of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. He lives in Steamboat Springs.