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Pipeline project plan raises water concerns

Uintah Basin News Service

A proposed water supply pipeline project could threaten compromised flows into and out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers published a notice of intent in the federal register to prepare an environmental impact statement to pipe 250,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Green River and the reservoir.

The regional watershed supply project is the inspiration of Aaron Million of the Million Conservation Resource Group.

"This will not be a good thing," indicated Bob Leake, regional water rights engineer. "We already have times when we operate below minimal flows on the Green River now."

The proposed project would take water from the Green River system at two withdrawal facilities under a priority right. Water supplies would be delivered through a 560-mile long pipeline to the Front Range of Colorado on a "perpetual basis."

According to the register filing, "the water would be obtained from the Green River as part of the unused portion of water allocated to the states of Wyoming and Colorado under the Upper Colorado River Compact" of 1922.

Under the compact, five states of the Upper Colorado River Basin receive a portion of 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year.

The states include Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

But shortages already occur. Water appropriations have exceeded supply, which depends primarily on the availability of snowmelt.

"Flaming Gorge already operates at minimum flows, which means we barely break even," said Leake.

The reservoir is never full and managers struggle to maintain water levels. That could also affect the water flow down the Green River clear to Lake Powell.

Leake explained that the reservoir operates for two singular reasons; "first, for hydroelectric power and second, to protect the endangered fish on the river."

Reduced flows would likely impact the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail, which are endangered fish species.

Once thriving species, they are now managed by the Upper Colorado River endangered fish recovery program and monitored under a three-state implementation plan.

However, the Million Conservation Resource Group project does not consider endangered fish as "potential water users."

Project designers anticipate 25,000 acre-feet of water would be delivered annually to the Platte River Basin in Wyoming and 225,000 acre-feet to the Platte River and Arkansas River Basin in Colorado.

The Million Conservation Resource Group proposes to fund the project privately but will have to cross federal and state land to deliver the water. A proposed alignment would conform to the I-80 corridor in southern Wyoming. Million's Group is seeking permits from the Bureau of Reclamation to withdraw water from Flaming Gorge and approval to cross public lands with the pipeline.

Public scoping meetings in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming are scheduled to address the proposed project. Written comments will be accepted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until May 19.

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