Report: Flaming Gorge water pipeline could churn billions in profits, if ever approved

A windfall of up to $2.4 billion could await the developer and operator of a proposed 578-mile pipeline that would pump water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge to Colorado’s Front Range.

Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million recently provided the Associated Press with his business plan, which reportedly would reap a net profit between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion.

Opposition to Million’s proposal is fierce. The region’s conservation community is aghast at the prospect of the pipeline sucking 81 billion gallons of water each year from the Green River, a tributary of the already depleted Colorado River. The plan includes development of three reservoirs, nine natural-gas-powered pump stations and six hydropower facilities, the AP reported.

A section of the Green River below Flaming Gorge and above its confluence with the Colorado River, a section popular with rafters and canoeists. (Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deemed the application inadequate in February but Million’s company, Wyco Power and Water Inc., returned last month asking the agency to reconsider.

“Aaron Million wants to drain and destroy the Green and Colorado rivers and part of the economy of Western Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah so that he can become a billionaire. The environmental community 100 percent opposes this project and will fight it as long as it takes,” wrote Gary Wockner, coordinator for Save The Colorado River campaign, in an email to The Colorado Independent last night.

Wyco would shepherd the project through the permitting process, the AP reported, while earning a management fee that could range from 0.25 percent to 3.0 percent of money raised for the pipeline.

Million reportedly has shown the business proposal to potential contractors. The estimated cost of the project is between $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion, with annual operating costs landing between an estimated $70 million and $90 million annually paid by water users, according to the AP.

Million has cited Colorado’s growing demand for water as the impetus of his ambitious plan.

A bidding war between farmers and the oil and gas industry at the state’s premier auction recently underscored the unquenchable thirst of the state’s bustling Front Range. Oil and gas drillers are providing new competition for farmers, the Denver Post reports, as they target large volumes of water for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that have traditionally been used to grow crops.

Yet critics of Million’s pipeline say it would only add to Colorado’s mounting environmental problems.

“This project is irresponsible, unsustainable, and insanely expensive. Instead, the Front Range of Colorado needs to meet its water supply challenges by focusing on water conservation, better growth management, water recycling, and cooperative agreements with farmers,” Wockner wrote.

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