A proposed pipeline carrying water 560 miles from Wyoming to Colorado would likely take the pressure off farmers and municipalities on the growing front range... but at what price?
[I originally published a version of this article at Celsias in August 2009. -TH]
Colorado's population is expected to double by 2050, when 10 million people will call the state home. According to some estimates, that growth will likely require an additional one million acre-feet of water per year.
The problem, in terms of long-term water planning, is that roughly ninety percent of Coloradoans live east of the Continental Divide, while about 75 percent of water falls on the Western Slope. But relatively little of that Western Slope water is unspoken for, and making any more claims on it would put enormous pressure on upstream riparian habitats and downstream agricultural producers alike. It's a different story to the north in Wyoming, however, where unappropriated water still runs fast and strong in the Green River.
And that's where Aaron Million comes in.
The Colorado rancher-turned-entrepreneur has proposed a plan to export up to 250,000 acre feet of water per year from the Green River, 560 miles to the south, to the growing cities along Colorado's front range. Million hatched the plan in 2003, right around the time he and I took a graduate seminar in environmental politics together. I saw Aaron on and off for the next few years on the campus at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and I knew he had a plan for some water project, but for some reason I didn't think he was that serious about it. I was wrong.
A man with a big plan
An avid fly-fisherman, and a bit of a free market environmentalist, the Boulder-raised Million is not your run-of-the-mill rancher. Nor is his, a run-of-the-mill plan.
Million developed the idea of the project while working on his PhD in Resource Economics at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. But when he spoke of the plan then, it seemed, to me at least, little more than a pipe dream. Today, however, the Army Corps of Engineers is preparing an Environmental Impact Study of the proposal, a proposal that could take the pinch off Colorado farmers and municipalities alike.
Below the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the Green River hooks out of Utah then loops briefly through Colorado before swinging back into Utah. Million wants to take advantage of Colorado’s remaining entitlement under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, saying about his 2003 epiphany, "I knew the Green River was a legal tributary of the Colorado River mainstream that would allow for a legal filing and appropriation of the water for the state."
The Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates the state has 440,000-1.4 million acre-feet of water to develop under the compact.
The pipeline would carry unclaimed Green River water from near Wyoming's southwestern border with Utah, eastward, alongside the Interstate 80 corridor and across the Continental Divide, which is only about 7,000 feet at that crossing. From there, the pipeline would head down into Laramie and turn southward, pointing toward several reservoirs on the Colorado Front Range
Sixteen pumping stations powered by locally abundant natural gas would be situated along the 560 mile route.(Continued...)