Water Diversion Proposal Surfaces on Upper Green River

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Another attempt to pump water from Utah’s Green River, and deliver it to Colorado’s Front Range, has resurfaced in a recent application to the Utah Division of Water Resources for a Water Rights Export Application.

According to the latest application, the Green River Pipeline or Regional Watershed Supply Project would withdraw 55,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River in Utah for export to Colorado’s Front Range Urban Corridor, for some unknown use. The proposed export of water from the Green River would undoubtedly result in changes in downstream flows over the life of the project. This raises considerable ecological, recreational, and economic concerns as the proposed export will impact public recreation and the natural stream environment of the entire Green River, which was recommended for special designation under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

“American Whitewater has opposed the Project,  for nearly a decade over concerns with its impact on the Green and Colorado Rivers,” says AW’s Nathan Fey. “The RWSP has been rejected previously by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers, and AW intervened in both of those permitting efforts.”

The Department of Interior has recommended designation of the Green River below Flaming Gorge, as a Wild and Scenic River to provide permanent protection specifically of the free-flowing condition of the river, its water quality, and other nationally and regionally significant values.  No water-related projects having direct or adverse effects on the ORVs or free-flowing condition of the Green River were proposed at the time of the recommendation. Normal reservoir releases through Flaming Gorge power plant outside of spring run-off flows, were determined sufficient to protect the Wild & Scenic values for which the river was determined eligible.

According to AW, the applicant has failed to consult with the BLM or the Bureau of Reclamation regarding impacts to the Green River from diverting water below Flaming Gorge reservoir under current operations, and no reference to contracting for additional water releases from Flaming Gorge has been made by the applicant. Under normal operations, there is little or no water available for additional diversion with the rare exception of very high spring flood releases which currently enhance existing downstream, environmental and recreational uses.

Additionally, the Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge is the only river reach in the entire Colorado basin the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found to have the carrying capacity to support a minimum viable population of Colorado pike minnow.  If flows in the Green are compromised, the endangered fish cannot be restored.

By some estimates, a pipeline to deliver Green River water to Colorado would require up to 500,000 MWh of electricity each year – enough power to meet the needs of 50,000 residents of Colorado (including their home, business, and industrial electricity needs). This figure reflects the net electricity consumption; the pipeline would require over 1,000,000 MWh, but would generate some hydropower to offset this.

Best estimates indicate that this application, if approved, would reduce important downstream flows from Flaming Gorge reservoir during spring floods, impact the free-flowing condition of the Green River, and could seriously raise the risk of a Compact Call on the Colorado River in a prolonged dry spell. The applicant has claimed there is water available for export, however it is unclear and highly disputed as to how much water Colorado has remaining to develop at a reasonable risk under the 1922 and 1948 compacts.

Water Horse Resources Water Rights Export Application is speculative and assumes availability of water with no consideration of impacts to downstream needs. In its letter, American Whitewater urges the Division to act with prudence and reject the application.