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Water pipeline project encounters opposition at scoping hearing

The Green River winds through the hillsides below the dam. A public scoping meeting conducted in the Uintah Basin regarding the Flaming Gorge and Green River pipeline proposal attracted a crowd of residents and concerned citizens opposing the project. The pipeline project, a private commercial endeavor, proposes to supply culinary water to municipalities located on the Colorado Front Range.

Uintah Basin News Service

Water remains a major concern not only in Carbon County, but at locations throughout eastern Utah.

A recent meeting in the Uintah Basin addressing the proposed Flaming Gorge and Green River pipeline to supply water to the Colorado Front Range drew a crowd of 100 participants.

Public speakers offered negative responses to the proposal.

Apparently, the measured reaction of the local speakers was a sharp contrast to the previous evening's scoping meeting in Green River, Wyo.

"There, I felt like Dr. Frankenstein before the hostile villagers," said Aaron Million, the Colorado-based developer. "Not here."

Million's regional watershed supply project, is a private undertaking proposing to deliver culinary water to Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

The Colorado municipalities have expanded beyond their water supply, but this is not a state sponsored proposition. Rather, it is a commercial proposal.

"We are here tonight for the purpose of introducing the project and identifying public concerns," explained Million. "We are doing everything we can do to uncover the flaws in our proposed process."

Joined by the United States Army Corps of Engineers representatives, speakers explained aspects of the pipeline. The ACOE is overseeing the environmental impact statement for the project,

The proposed alignment would take water from the reservoir and river in Wyoming and pipe it more than 500 miles east and south to the Front Range.

"Two hundred fifty thousand acre-feet a year of water could be diverted from two points into pipelines meant for the Front Range," said Rena Brand, ACOE regulatory specialist.

According to the two entities, Colorado has unused water rights. The rights date back to the forming of the Upper Colorado River Basin and Colorado Compact more than 80 years ago.

Rights aside, there's still the issue of drought within western river basins that has plagued the region historically.

"The Utah water plan of 2007 shows one normal water year out of 12 previous drought years," noted Vernal resident JC Brewer. "Half of nothing is still nothing."

In a drought, how can the region be asked to provide a firm yield of 250,000 acre-feet?

One Daggett County resident noted that U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's statistics state "only 13 years out of 40 years of flow have produced 250,000 acre-feet."

Amplifying his personal comments, Ed Peterson spoke on behalf of the Uintah County Commission and stated the officials' opposition to the proposed project.

"The project amounts to a raid on the Basin's water," said Peterson. If a 500-mile pipeline from Flaming Gorge can be built to deliver water to the Front Range, then why not take it from the Mississippi or Missouri Basins 500 miles to the east?"

Only one alternative with several variations was presented at the scoping meeting.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineer representatives noted that the current Green River/ Flaming Gorge was but one of four or five alternatives yet to be considered.

"Why then, was not an alternative stating retrieval from the eastern river basins along with the Green River /Flaming Gorge out-take presented?" asked one attendee at the meeting.

Vernal resident Dave Allison questioned whether the ACOE's water model, "would provide sufficient year-to-year flows to sustain downstream flow or would low-flow cause sediment to fill-in the reservoir quickly."

Several residents noted that Colorado's actions under the proposal would foreclose on water development on the Western Slope.

"Residents of the Yampa and White River basins would not be able to develop their water," said a Colorado resident, noting the complete absence of meetings planned for these areas.

None of the alternatives for project development include developing water conservation efforts for the Colorado Front Range in light of their shortfall.

Several Daggett County speakers pointed to their economic dependence on the recreation industry on the reservoir and the river below the dam.

"The impact of low flows on the fisheries economy will be devastating," says Jeff Taniguchi, Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council member.

It was noted that fluctuations in water levels would affect the quality of flows and also spawning fish.

A Wyoming fishing guide at the meeting asked officials, "What about the millions we have invested to keep whirling disease, crawdads and invasive species from destroying the waterways?"

Also rafting trips on the lower Green, could be compromised and this means in Desolation Canyon that runs on the eastern border of Carbon County.

Addressing that point, Ted Hatch of Hatch River Expeditions said such rafting excursions "would become history."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to complete a draft environmental impact statement on the proposal by 2012, with a record of decision by 2014.

ACOE representatives noted that the project may not receive a permit to develop this project.

Stakeholders may comment to or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Denver Regulatory Office, 9307 S. Wadsworth Boulevard, Littleton, CO 80128-6901.

The public comment period ends on May 19.

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