Pipeline politics

Now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating a grandiose proposal to pump water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in southern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range, one might think that the federal agency would schedule hearings in the region that stands to lose the most if the plan proceeds: Colorado’s Western Slope.

Not so. In fact, two public meetings set for next week will both be held in Wyoming, one in Green River and one in Laramie.

Yet virtually all of the water from the Flaming Gorge pipeline project would come from the Western Slope, even though it would be pumped out of the reservoir in Wyoming, then piped across southern Wyoming and down the Interstate 25 corridor to Front Range cities and towns.

“We know how it will be allocated,” said Chris Treese, with the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. “If it’s all being consumed in Colorado, then it will all come from Colorado’s entitlement” under the Colorado River Basin Compact.

And Colorado’s entitlement under that compact all comes from the Western Slope — from the Colorado River and its tributaries.

The estimated 250,000 acre feet of water a year that the Flaming Gorge pipeline project is to use would supposedly come out of the unused portion of Colorado’s entitlement. The problem is, “We don’t really know what Colorado’s remaining entitlement is,” Treese said.

That’s why the state allocated $1 million two years ago to study how much water is currently being consumed from the Colorado River and its tributaries.

Aaron Million, the Front Range entrepreneur behind the Flaming Gorge pipeline, deserves credit for planning to use private financing and an existing reservoir for his project. But that doesn’t mean all of the concerns related to the project have been alleviated. Far from it.

Furthermore, his project isn’t the only one seeking to use potentially hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water from what remains of this state’s Colorado River entitlement. A northeastern Colorado water group has proposed a project to pump water from the Yampa River to the Front Range. And the demands that a commercial oil shale industry could place on Western Slope water remain uncertain, but substantial.

“With all of these we have the same concern,” Treese said. “That they are going to take us to the edge of the cliff and perhaps push us over with them.”

The water availability question is one that needs to be answered before the Army Corps of Engineers proceeds much further with its examination of the Flaming Gorge pipeline project.


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