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Posted: August 01, 2009

State of the state: Natural resources

Fight for Green River water continues

Allen Best

Frank Jaeger was in Wyoming in June trying to sell a plan to bring water to Colorado. He was short on specifics, but the general idea is to draw water from the Green River across the Continental Divide, 400 miles to Colorado’s Front Range.

Jaeger, the long-time manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District, didn’t say so, but presumably one of the customers of the water would be his own water district and others in Denver’s south metro area that remain reliant upon what some experts have described as dangerously diminishing aquifers.

Call Jaeger’s idea Out-of-the-Box Plan B.

StofSt_GreenRiver.jpg

Green River at Flaming Gorge Dam

This is the second installment of that idea. The first came from Aaron Million in 2003 when he was a graduate student at Colorado State University. While studying a map, he observed that the Green River, after being impounded at Flaming Gorge Dam, briefly dipped into Colorado on its way to a confluence with the Colorado River near Moab, Utah.

Compacts governing the apportionment of the Colorado River Basin waters among the various states do not say that each state’s water has to come from within the state, he said. And by capturing it in Wyoming, he reasoned, it could be pumped through a pipeline alongside Interstate 80, avoiding Colorado’s more vertical topography.

The idea was audacious – and literally out of the Colorado box.

And from the outset, Million’s plan had one clear vulnerability: He was a private entrepreneur, without any clear customers. What would prevent somebody else – presumably government agencies, the more traditional purveyors of water – from executing the same idea? They would instantly have the customers, thus overcoming Colorado’s laws that bar speculation in water.

Parker water district’s Jaeger has now made two appearances in Wyoming this year, in June accompanied by Rod Kuharich, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, according to officials present at the meeting in Rock Springs, Wyo. Jaeger said he was assembling members for the Colorado-Wyoming Water Coalition, but did not identify its membership. Neither Jaeger nor Kuharich returned repeated messages seeking comment.

Million was in the same area in April, facing at least one hostile audience that saw him as a modern-day horse thief. Jaeger asked nothing of the locals, nor offered anything save for an open dialogue. “I don’t know if you get that with the other project,” said Jaeger, presumably referring to Million’s plan.

These two out-of-the-box ideas are accompanied by a third inside-the-box proposal of similarly grand dimensions, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s vision of a pipeline drawing water from the Yampa River about 30 miles west of Craig. All assume that Colorado has significant water remaining for development under the compacts governing allocations in the Colorado River Basin. Some estimates have ranged as high as 750,000 acre-feet. (One acre foot of water is enough to meet the water demands of four people in a year.)

But Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which represents much of the Western Slope, is less optimistic. He has suggested that the projects could devastate the state’s remaining water reserves; perhaps only 150,000 acre-feet remain for development, with that amount imperiled by the accumulating evidence suggesting a drier future in the Colorado River Basin.  Even one of these projects could mean the “game’s over” as far as available water, said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the river district.

A study now under way by the Colorado River Water Conservation Board, a statewide agency, aims to get a firmer thumb on just how much Colorado water remains available for development.

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