Flaming Gorge Task Force: ‘I guess neutral is a big win for us’ — Aaron Million

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

More state discussions are needed on how to develop Colorado’s share of Colorado River water, a task force that met for more than a year on the Flaming Gorge water project reported Wednesday. The task force did not recommend either building or denying the Flaming Gorge pipeline idea, and wasn’t expected to. Instead, it worked to create a framework that would bring competing interests to the table to evaluate any project proposing development of a new supply from the Colorado River. Its conclusions will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which funded the task force. “I guess neutral is a big win for us,” said Aaron Million, who was one of two sponsors of a Flaming Gorge pipeline who met with the task force last year.

More engineering work is being completed so that the Flaming Gorge project can be resubmitted to a federal agency for environmental evaluation. Million said it would be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which rejected an application last year, saying more information was needed. If FERC does not accept the new proposal, either the Army Corps of Engineers or Bureau of Land Management would be approached.

The task force recommended the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee, an umbrella organization that represents the interests of basin roundtables and the state, develop a way to evaluate if a project meets certain criteria. The top priorities are developing Colorado’s share of the water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and protecting the state from a call on the river that could diminish Colorado’s water supply.

The group recommended forming a committee that would continue to discuss issues relating to water and is asking the CWCB for up to $100,000 for phase 2 of the study. The first phase was funded at $72,000 in September 2011, over the objections of environmental groups who tried to kill any consideration of a Flaming Gorge plan.

More coverage from the Associated Press via the Laramie Boomerang. Here’s an excerpt:

In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee said questions that should be addressed include not only financing and how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river, but also alternatives to new water supply projects.

The committee said state leaders and each of the basin roundtables in Colorado should participate in the conversation, which it called a “key threshold step” needed to move beyond the status quo in developing significant new water supply solutions. The roundtables represent each major river basin in the state, plus the Denver area.

The report, released Wednesday, described an urgent need for action, citing the gap between the demand for water on the populated Front Range and the supply.

“The municipal gap on the Front Range is immediate, the dry-up of agriculture is real and certain, and the environmental and economic concerns are serious and numerous,” the report said.

The report also listed several characteristics of “good” water supply projects. For instance, they should have funding and minimize the need for new infrastructure, and they shouldn’t reduce supplies to existing water users, the report said.

Colorado’s river basin roundtables agreed to form the committee after entrepreneur Aaron Million announced a $3 billion pipeline proposal to carry Flaming Gorge Reservoir water to Colorado, and a separate coalition of water providers said it was exploring its own plan. The committee didn’t set out to endorse any proposal but wanted to answer questions about cost, feasibility, water rights and legalities, along with the environmental, socioeconomics, agricultural and recreational impacts of any Flaming Gorge project, among other issues.

Million has yet to gain permits for his project. He said Thursday his team is doing more engineering work after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year dismissed his permit application over a lack of specifics.

More coverage from the Wyoming Business Journal (MJ Clark):

The committee is aware of protests by environmentalists and issues raised by their own constituency.

“Rather than focusing on a Flaming Gorge project, the committee is exploring what the attributes would be of any successful new transmountain diversion,” the group wrote. “And foremost to that discussion is dealing with the uncertainties of water availability under the Colorado River Compact.”

Noting that the staff could not reach an agreement of whether or not to endorse the project, the group concluded that, “At this point, we don’t see the benefit of having the Flaming Gorge Committee continue … unless the board directs otherwise, this will be the direction staff takes.”

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

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