Gov. Freudenthal has concerns over transbasin water project
Colorado man wants to pipe Green River water 500 miles to Colorado
by Governor Freudenthal's office
July 27, 2009
A Colorado entrepreneur’s plan to pipe water more than 500 miles from southwest Wyoming to the Front Range of Colorado must not impact any existing water uses in Wyoming, nor can it affect any future water development in the state for Wyoming water users, according to Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
In comments submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the Governor expressed a wide range of concerns about the Regional Watershed Supply Project proposed by the Million Conservation Resource Group (MCRG). He urged the Corps of Engineers to carefully scrutinize the proposal to understand how it might affect other drainages and to assess its impact on Wyoming’s future water development, the area’s wildlife, endangered species and the recreation economy in the Green River Basin.
The Governor left no doubt about his lack of support for the MCRG proposal. "I would strongly caution that you not confuse my calm expressions of issues with a change in position on the project. I remain opposed to this project. My restraint should only be read as respect for the state of Colorado’s rights under the Colorado River Compact. In turn, I expect similar deference to Wyoming’s right to develop its Compact allocation going forward," Gov. Freudenthal said in scoping comments to the Corps of Engineers.
The project would divert water from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir at two separate diversion points and pump and pipe the water 560 miles to southeastern Wyoming and the Front Range of Colorado. The project would deliver 25,000 acre-feet to water users in the Platte River Basin and 225,000 acre-feet to the South Platte and Arkansas River Basins in Colorado.
In order for NEPA analysis to move forward, Freudenthal said the project proponents must prove that there is a defined need. "This defined need cannot be general as to the overall demand on Colorado’s Front Range, but must focus on what the demand is, where the water will be directed, whether specific contracts are in place to purchase water from MCRG, what other proposed competing or complimentary projects are in place and what progress have those projects achieved. Additionally, the project cannot be so narrowly defined that it forecloses a reasonable consideration of alternatives," Gov. Freudenthal said
The Governor emphasized that the NEPA analysis must recognize that the MCRG proposal cannot impact any existing water uses in Wyoming, nor can it affect any future water development in the state for Wyoming water users.
The Governor also expressed concerns related to wildlife and endangered species – both terrestrial and aquatic – that rely on the cold waters of the Green River Basin. Removing water from the system would reduce its volume, thereby increasing its temperature and concentrating dissolved solids such as salt in the water. This can have devastating effects on fish and the avian and mammal species that depend on them for food.
Lowering the level of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is a haven for boaters and fishermen, will also decrease the tourism business on which so many residents of the area depend, the Governor wrote. "The (Environmental Impact Statement) needs to identify and analyze all ofthese effects on the fisheries both on the Green River and in Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and review any impacts on all recreational values which may be affected."
The text of the Governor’s letter follows:
July 27, 2009
Ms. Rena Brand, Regulatory Specialist
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District
Denver Regulatory Office
9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Littleton, CO 80128-6901
Re: Scoping Comments, Regional Watershed Supply Project (RSWP)
Dear Ms. Brand:
On behalf of the state of Wyoming, I want to take this opportunity to raise a number of significant concerns regarding the Regional Watershed Supply Project proposed by the Million Conservation Resource Group (MCRG).
The proposed project would divert 250,000 acre feet of water from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir at two separate diversion points and pump and pipe the water 560 miles to southeastern Wyoming and the Front Range of Colorado. The project would deliver 25,000 acre-feet to water users in the Platte River Basin and the remaining 225,000 acre-feet would be delivered annually to the South Platte and Arkansas River Basins in Colorado. In the context of the history of the Colorado River, we have witnessed profound changes. But even matched against such weighty events, the MCRG project is remarkable in terms its scope and the sheer amount of water involved.
To say the least, on a number of fronts, this project will impact Wyoming, and I therefore ask for your thoughtful consideration of the following comments:
1) The Regional Watershed Supply Project poses questions regarding Upper Colorado River Basin Compact allocations which should be addressed in this NEPA analysis
Wyoming recognizes Colorado’s right to develop its compact allocation pursuant to the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and that development in one state for use in another is allowed. However, that same Article IX of the Compact expressly conditions such development to be subject tothe rights of users in the source state – Wyoming in this case. In accordance with the Compact, our priority system has assigned priority dates to the MCRG applications for points of diversion in this state. However, and I mean to add emphasis by employing bold font, the Colorado uses served by this project cannot affect, in any way, or deny any future uses in Wyoming, which of course will have later priority dates. As such, the NEPA analysis must consider that diversions for use in Colorado will be conditioned by Wyoming such that they will always be the most junior users on the lower river above Flaming Gorge.
Further, MCRG will have difficulty pursuing this project if the State of Colorado does not agree that a portion of her compact allocation should be assigned to the project. Project proponents must demonstrate to Colorado that they "can and will" pursue the project before a
Colorado water right can be issued. MCRG’s ability to meet this threshold borders on speculation if MCRG cannot identify its customers. So, while I do not purport to be either the Colorado Governor or her State Engineer, the process for appropriating water for use in that state, served by a diversion in ours, must be fully understood.
2) Designation of Purpose and Need
While the Colorado Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) indicates that Colorado’s South Platte Basin will need approximately 409,700 acre-feet of new water by 2030 and the Arkansas Basin will need an additional 8,000 acre-feet, MCRG has not indicated any user group, water district, or municipality that has shown any interest in purchasing the water or participating with MCRG in developing this water. The Corps needs to explore this aspect when developing the purpose and need statement for an EIS. Quantities of water simply expressed in a statewide needs report are not sufficient to demonstrate that the customers are ready and willing to use the water. While it can be argued that the "purpose" of the MCRG is to close the gap on SWSI, the need is not demonstrable since no community has expressed an interest in purchasing any of the water which is to be provided. Such a level of specificity is necessary for a full NEPA analysis.
No sufficient NEPA analysis can proceed, especially alternatives analyses, without a greater defined need outlined by the MCRG. This defined need cannot be general as to the overall demand on Colorado’s Front Range, but must focus on what the demand is, where the water will be directed, whether specific contracts are in place to purchase water from MCRG, what other proposed competing or complimentary projects are in place and what progress have those projects achieved. Additionally, the project cannot be so narrowly defined that it forecloses a reasonable consideration of alternatives. An analysis of the need for water along Colorado’s Front Range must consider alternatives other than the diversion of 250,000 acre feet per year from the Green River Basin.
3) The Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program is essential to the Upper Basin and must continue as the reasonable and prudent alternative to avoid jeopardy for the Basin’s four endangered fish, despite annual depletions of up to 250,000 acre feet
In 1988, the State of Wyoming entered into a cooperative agreement with the Department of the Interior, the Western Area Power Administration, and the states of Colorado and Utah to conduct the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program (Recovery Program). The objective of the program is to recover the four endangered species of fish (the humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and the bonytail) while at the same time allowing the states to develop their compact entitlements to the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries. It is vital to Wyoming that the Recovery Program remains viable and continues to provide reasonable and prudent alternatives to assure Endangered Species Act compliance for existing and future water development projects so that Wyoming can continue to develop its compact allocation.
Based on differing assumptions, Wyoming has as much or more water per year remaining to develop under its compact allocations than is proposed by MCRG. Obviously, the bulk of this development must occur upstream of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
The MCRG proposes to increase the depletions at or above Flaming Gorge Reservoir by an additional 225,000 acre-feet per year chargeable to Colorado. Wyoming’s future water development cannot be jeopardized by the superposition of the MCRG depletions on top of ours on the river if the Recovery Program cannot accommodate both sets of demands. Located as we are at the top of the river, Wyoming has nowhere else to go for our water. The impacts of the MCRG proposal on the Recovery Program must be fully defined, evaluated and disclosed, and must assume Wyoming’s full apportionment is developed.
In sum, the NEPA analysis for the proposed pipeline project must carefully analyze the effects of the annual removal of 225,000 acre feet of water for Colorado from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the continued ability of the Recovery Program to provide endangered species compliance at the current time, but also as Wyoming continues to develop its compact-apportioned water supply.
Furthermore, the EIS should consider the ramifications of potentially more stringent requirements by the Recovery Program on future development that may result from the implementation of MCRG proposal.
4) Dewatering the Upper Green River Basin will have impacts to the ecosystem and recreational opportunities
The Upper Green River Basin is a unique High Desert ecosystem supporting native trout species and serves as the fly-way for several migratory birds and raptors. Dewatering this system will have the effect of increasing water temperatures, putting fish populations as risk.
Much like the big river fish downstream, Flaming Gorge Reservoir has species which are sensitive to warming waters which could result from the decrease of water in the reservoir. Trout and Kokanee Salmon are affected, and the salmon spawn in the fall upstream on the Green River. Lowering water levels have a high likelihood to do harm to these species both due to lowering waters and warming waters.
Lowering the level of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is a haven for boaters and fishermen, will decrease the tourism business on which so many residents of the area depend. Reductions of flow in the River will discourage rafter use should the flow decrease below 1000 cfs.
Thus the EIS needs to identify and analyze all of these effects on the fisheries both on the Green River and in Flaming Gorge Reservoir, and review any impacts on all recreational values which may be affected.
Wyoming understands that the environmental effects of the development of our compact allocation will be considered when that development occurs. However, the MCRG proposal should not exacerbate the mitigation Wyoming may have to provide to develop its compact allocation. Therefore, the baseline for analyses of the environmental effects of the MCRG proposal should again assume that Wyoming has developed her entire compact allocation,
5) Diversion of 25,000 acre feet to the North Platte River drainage creates an entire series of issues which need analysis
Many of the points made in comment 1) above, are pertinent to the proposal to provide 25,000 acre feet of water per year to Wyoming. For example, as with the development of water for Colorado’s Front Range, the MCRG needs to develop a clear purpose and need as it relates to the allocation of the 25,000 acre-feet in Wyoming.
6) Additional Endangered Species Concerns
The Wyoming Toad, whose habitat is adjacent to Lake Hattie, is a federally endangered species and could come under increased threats withnew water coming into the Lake. The NEPA analysis should consider all aspects of threats or benefits which could impact the Toad.
Withdrawal of such a significant volume of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir will cause a concentrating effect on the total dissolved solid load in the Colorado River Basin. It is therefore important, in light of the salinity concerns in the Colorado River Basin that prompted passage of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act (PL 93-320), as amended, that the NEPA analysis for this proposed project fully evaluate project-specific water quality impacts.
8) Existing Infrastructure
One of the MCRG alternatives proposes water diversion from the Green River instead of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Several industries, as well as the Green River/Rock Springs/ Sweetwater County Water Supply Project, have diversions below Fontenelle Reservoir and above the City of Green River. This EIS must thoroughly examine all impacts on these existingdiversions by the proposed MCRG project alternative to divert water directly from the Green River.
These alternatives and associated analyses should include the economic impacts to other water users downstream of the diversion point(s). Furthermore, the EIS must consider a range of alternatives which include points of diversion other than those which interfere with the existing water supply operations of other water users.
9) Costs and Financing
While the MCRG concept is currently proposed as a privately-financed undertaking, it is incumbent on the Corps to analyze the project costs, technical feasibility and logistics of the project both as a privately and publicly financed enterprise. The water marketing plan of the MCRG, including costs and fees to potential customers, should be disclosed and compared against an alternative whereby the proposal is independently implemented by public entities. For example, removing the profit aspect of the project development, operation, and maintenance should the project be undertaken by public entities would reduce costs to the consumers. The NEPA analysis should consider this possible alternative.
10) Pumping Infrastructure and Associated Costs
Full NEPA analyses require a complete understanding of the power generation, infrastructure and rights-of-way needed to pump the water from the Green River/Flaming Gorge to Lake Hattie and onto Colorado’s Front Range and Wyoming’s Platte River Basin.
I appreciate your consideration of my comments. However, I would strongly caution that you not confuse my calm expressions of issues with a change in position on this project. I remain opposed to this project. My restraint should only be read as respect for the state of Colorado’s rights under the Colorado River Compact. In turn, I expect similar deference to Wyoming’s right to develop its Compact allocation going forward – starting with a robust and thoughtful analysis of the potential impacts of the MCRG project on Wyoming.
c: Senator Mike Enzi
Senator John Barrasso
Representative Cynthia Lummis
Pat Tyrrell, State Engineer
Mike Purcell, Director, Water Development Commission
Steve Ferrell, Director, Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Sweetwater County Commissioners