Pipeline from Flaming Gorge remains a costly mistake

Aaron Million, the promoter of a plan to tap water from the Green River and pipeline it across southern Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range, declared last week that if the project proves to be environmentally unsound, the pipeline shouldn’t be built.

Get ready to pull the plug, Mr. Million.

It’s true that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t yet completed its environmental analysis of Mr. Million’s $3 billion proposal. And we suspect that even a large water pipeline could be placed across much of the desert of southern Wyoming without causing much in the way of environmental havoc.

But the same can’t be said of the water needed for the project. Colorado has a stake in this because a portion of the Green River runs across the northwest corner of this state and two important Western Slope Rivers — the Yampa and the White — feed into the Green.

So Colorado’s interests, as well as those of Utah and Wyoming, are linked to such questions as whether Million’s plan will affect the ability of water users in these states to fully develop their water rights under the limitations of the seven-state Colorado River Basin Compact. In fact, there are serious questions about whether enough water is legally available for what he hopes to do and how it could affect existing agricultural use.

There are also other environmental questions: How will taking 250,000 acre feet of water from Flaming Gorge affect Dinosaur National Monument and the Green River as it flows through remote canyons in the monument? What about populations of endangered fish in the Green and Colorado rivers, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies have been trying hard to re-establish?

Southwestern Wyoming communities have already announced their opposition to Million’s pipeline project. So have a number of environmental organizations and water groups.

But Million isn’t the only one eyeing the Flaming Gorge. Late last month, a coalition of Front Range Colorado cities and some from Wyoming, along with a number of utilities, announced they will also study the feasibility of a pipeline from the Green River.

As it has been for more than a century, water on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains remains an attractive target for water users on the Front Range. But when that water goes east, it nearly always occurs to the detriment of water users on this side of the Continental Divide.


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