Flaming Gorge pipeline: Wyoming residents and water wonks may have the final say

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From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

State compacts dating from 1922 and 1948 entitle Colorado to water in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, but “I don’t have the legal ability to go up there and administer those rights,” said Dick Wolfe, Colorado’s state engineer and director of the Colorado Division of Water.

While that ability may seem like just one of the many intricacies involved in a proposed 500-mile pipeline to bring water from southwestern Wyoming to a thirsty Colorado Front Range, it’s a key point that could be decided by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, who has already expressed opposition to the project. “He is opposed to the pipeline,” confirmed Renny MacKay, communication director for the governor’s office. MacKay said in a recent interview the governor said he opposes trans-basin diversions in general, and in particular, “I don’t think that Aaron Million’s project is well thought out.”[...]

For Wolfe, being able to administer such water rights is not a trivial matter. The whole project hinges upon Colorado’s ability to take more water out of the Colorado River, which it is entitled to do under an interstate compact with fellow headwater states, Wyoming and New Mexico, and downstream states, such as California and Nevada. As much as 250,000 acre feet of water could be brought to the Front Range by the project, about enough for 1 million new residents with current usage. However, the state engineer’s office also has to protect the rights of other users that draw water from the Colorado, such as the senior rights for the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which already supplies water to much of northeastern Colorado. “The point of diversion doesn’t have to be in the state of use,” Wolfe noted. “But then we have to deal with how to administer that right, and how that diversion gets counted under the compact.”[...]

At a minimum, Wolfe said, the state engineers from both Wyoming and Colorado need to put new rules in place that would allow him to shut down the headgate for the pipeline when it is not in priority — when there’s not enough water in the Colorado to comply with the compact. While both offices noted there is a high degree of cooperation between the headwater states regarding the compact, this is fairly new ground and legislative action may be required.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

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