State skewered for spending taxpayer money to study pricey, private water pipeline plans
Members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) today voted to spend an initial $72,000 to form a task force to study the feasibility of two separate proposals to pipe water out of the Green River in southwest Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range.
At a meeting in Grand Junction, the CWCB reportedly indicated there could be more money available for more detailed analysis of the two so-called Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposals if the initial study demonstrates some feasibility.
Conservation groups, pointing to an initial state analysis showing the project could cost between $7 billion and $9 billion, say spending any taxpayer money on the project is a waste of scarce state resources and that the project would result in the most expensive water in state history and environmental degradation of the Green and Colorado River basins.
Stakeholders had been seeking considerably more money and more task force meetings to examine the proposals.
“We are encouraged that the state will waste less taxpayer money on this study, but we still think it’s a complete waste of time and money even in its watered-down form,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Colorado.
“The pipeline would irrevocably harm the Green and Colorado Rivers, cost up to $9 billion, and negatively impact the West Slope’s economy. The state should spend the public’s money elsewhere.”
Fort Collins businessman Aaron Million first floated the private pipeline concept in 2007, arguing Colorado has the right to divert up to 250,000 acre feet a year from the Green River just below Flaming Gorge Reservoir because the river briefly swings through Moffat County in western Colorado before flowing into the Colorado River in Utah.
“We’ve been watching from the sidelines,” Million told the Denver Post. “The project needs to be studied. This is a move-forward decision.”
However, an independent economic study indicates the project could devastate the tourism and outdoor recreation economy of the region. Other critics say the task force work should not proceed until federal regulators can determine how much Colorado River water will even be available to the state under certain climate change or drought scenarios.
“Those are fundamental questions that the Bureau of Reclamation and others are in the process of answering right now, and we really believe that those questions should be answered before we fund a process to look at the process,” Stacy Tellinghuisen, senior energy water policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates, told the Colorado Independent.
“And what are the ripple effects? If we develop this huge new chunk of water for the Front Range, does that mean that the West Slope no longer has the opportunity to develop water for its own use?” she added. “Those are questions that need to be answered but probably aren’t going to be answered by this task force.”