Pipeline Proposal needs to stay Pipe Dream
Proposed 560-mile pipeline would draw 250,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River to deliver to Colorado front range
by Guest Opinion: Mac Blewer, Audubon Wyoming
May 10, 2009
As Mark Twain once penned, "whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over." That sentiment has never been truer than in the American West where water wars have been erupting since settlers were lured here by famed politician and journalist Horace Greeley’s descriptions of the verdant, rich meadows waiting to be tilled in the heart of sage-brush country.
Today, the public is being sold, yet again, a false bill of goods, this time by a billionaire from Colorado. Aaron Million, a smooth-talking businessman with a big idea, is proposing a 560 mile pipeline that will draw 250,000-acre feet annually from the Green River (and drawing it down by around 20% in the process) and deliver it to the Front Range. The Wyoming public is up in arms about it. They should be. This multi-billion dollar farce of a proposal will potentially impact recreation in southwest Wyoming, fisheries (including a world class Kokanee Salmon fishery), big game habitat and fish-reliant avian species such as bald eagles, ospreys and pelicans.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is reviewing Mr. Million’s proposal and has embarked on a "scoping process." While the Corps seems to be seriously engaged, they have handled the Wyoming hearings somewhat schizophrenically. After getting a tongue-lashing in Green River by several hundred hunters and anglers (in addition to the Mayor of Green River and several of the Sweetwater County Commissioners), the Corps shut down the process, saying that the comments were not "diverse" enough. After that gracious observation, around a quarter of the crowd left disgusted, not feeling as if their concerns would be heard. The Laramie hearing was almost academic in terms of process, although everyone who spoke up, except for one, was against the project. The Corps allowed everyone to finish as the comments were "diverse" enough.
Some issues which the Corps still needs to answer regarding the project include the following:
- Between Green River and Fontanelle, the proposed corridor would cut right through prime Greater Sage-grouse habitat. What would the impacts be on this icon of the American West?
- Between Little Mountain and a mile east of Flaming Gorge, the proposed corridor would cut through important habitat for the sensitive Midget-faded Rattlesnake and other reptiles. Has the project developer taken this into account?
- How would this proposal impact Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, an Important Bird Area and a crown jewel of our public lands system? What will the impacts of increased river velocity on the Green be on ongoing restoration projects in the Refuge? Seedskadee is the largest producer of Trumpeter Swans in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. How will this proposal impact this important breeding population?
- How will decreased water availability impact willows and cottonwoods and the Mule-deer and Moose that rely upon them in southwestern Wyoming?
- There is the very real potential right now of exotic species such as Zebra Mussel and the Quagga Mussel to be brought into southwestern Wyoming either by the energy boom or through recreationists. How will the project proponent ensure that the pipeline does not become a conduit for damaging exotic species to the Colorado River?
The Million Water Proposal (also known as the Regional Watershed Supply Project) is bad for Wyoming and bad for our wildlife. Citizens need to be on record as against this proposal. The deadline for comments is July 27th. The proposal may be accessed on the web at https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/html/od-tl/eis-info.htm.
Comments should be addressed to:
Ms. Rena Brand, Regulatory Specialist
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District
Denver Regulatory Office
9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd. Littleton, CO 80128
Phone (303) 979-4120 Fax (303) 979-0602
While you might think that the idea of pumping Wyoming’s water several hundred miles to help water lawns and keep pools filled in Denver is a ridiculous concept, and you’d be right, this proposal does indeed have legs and is moving forward. Let’s see if we can nip this one in the bud.
(Mac Blewer is the Grassroots Organizer for Audubon Wyoming. He may be reached at email@example.com. For more information, go to www.audubonwyoming.org)