Proposition to pump water from Green River to Colorado’s Front Range meets resistance

The sun sets in Dinosaur National Monument near the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers.
Scott Franz

CRAIG — Several organizations have filed formal protest against a water rights application filed in January, which proposes diverting water from the Green River in Utah over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range.

The application, filed by Aaron Million’s Water Horses LLC, calls for 55,000-acre-feet of water to be used in a hydroelectric power facility, likely in Wyoming, before becoming available for consumptive use and in-stream flows on the Front Range. It proposes two pump stations on Bureau of Land Management land about 5 miles west of the state line in Dagget County, Utah, just before the river takes its 41-mile turn into Moffat County.

It would take about 500 miles of pipeline to divert the water from Utah north and east into Wyoming and the Front Range.

The location of the hydroelectric facility “will be determined at a later date, following additional project design and engineering,” according to the application.

Thirty-two formal letters of protest from 27 individuals and organizations were submitted to the Utah State Engineer. Protests came from a wide swath of organizations, including a labor union on Water Horse Resources’ project team, an energy company, several environmental nonprofits, private individuals and state and federal agencies. The public protest period on the project closed April 7.

Now, the Utah Division of Water Resources will make a decision on whether to grant the water right. Once the decision comes out, it could be appealed in court.

“It’s just a disagreeable idea to have water from this side of the mountain going over to the other side of the mountain for development purposes, maybe even speculative development purposes, at that,” said Terry Carwile, a Craig resident who sent a letter of protest on the project.

Million has filed applications for Green River water before. In 2012, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected Water Horse Resource’s application to divert 240,000 acre-feet of water from Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge reservoir to the Front Range.

“I just thought it was so danged outlandish that I wouldn’t even really pay that much attention to it,” Carwile said of the Flaming Gorge application. “But now, here we are; we’ve got a water rights filing in Utah right in Browns Park.” He sent a letter of protest to remain up to date on the project.

“This looks like an attempt at an end-run around Western Colorado water users,” he said.

The project would cost about $890 million, according to a news release from Water Horse Resources LLC. The company has nicknamed it the “Grasshopper Project,” a play on the pronunciation of an acronym of the project’s full name, Green Sun Storage Hydro Power.

“The Green has numerous advantages,” Water Horse Resource’s Tom Wood said in the news release. “A huge river system, excellent water quality, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir that will double the state of Colorado’s storage availability.”

In the news release, Million said that “surpluses out of the Green River can alleviate some issues on the Front Range and take pressure off the high mountain Colorado River headwaters, like the Blue and Fraser River.” Million thinks the project would help net flows on the Colorado River.

“The Green River is one of the remaining watersheds in the Colorado River Basin — specifically in Colorado – that isn’t completely allocated. The state and management/planning entities in the water community want to be able to plan appropriately for the future use of that water,” said Zane Kessler, a spokesperson for the Colorado River District, the organization that operates Elkhead Reservoir and is largely responsible for management of water in the Colorado River Basin.

“The application that we’re looking at now, filed by Mr. Million, would essentially usurp our ability to collectively plan for the appropriate development of the remaining and dwindling water resources that we have at our disposal,” he added.

Kessler said the Colorado River District is concerned the proposal could have far-reaching impacts. The district is worried the proposal could “push us over the cliff,” in meeting obligations to send water downstream under the Colorado River Compact. Should this project over-allocate water in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado water users could be forced to reduce use.

“The risk is not only borne by users on the Green River,” Kessler said. “It’s users throughout the Colorado River basin and the state.”

In Utah, state officials are concerned about impacts to Green River users, as well as the state’s ability to manage for endangered fish. In a letter of protest filed by the Utah Board of Water Resources, officials also question whether the state of Colorado would count the diversion against Colorado’s allocation under the Colorado River Compact.

Other organizations, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, are concerned the proposal would put further strain on a river that is anticipated to see water shortages. Numerous letters of petition have noted the impacts the project could have in managing several endangered fish species that live downstream in the Colorado and Green Rivers, including Colorado pikeminnow, razorback suckers, humpback chub and bonytail chub.

Several letters of protest claim the application is speculative, as Water Horse Resources has not outlined specific uses, beyond that the water would be used for hydropower, in-stream flows, agriculture and municipal use on the Front Range.

“This is a clear case of water speculation,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, in a news release. “Development of this resource in this manner would not only harm existing Western Slope water users, but would impact the ability of the river district and the state of Colorado to plan for and develop future water resources, as well.”

“Who knows if this could ever come to fruition, but right at the moment, I just want to pay attention now,” Carwile said.

The following organizations filed formal protests to the application.

• Eight water conservancy districts, including the Central Utah, Duchesne County, Emery, San Juan, Uintah, Upper Yampa, Washington and Wayne County districts.

• Two private individuals, including Carwile and a farmer in Green River, Utah

• American Whitewater

• Center for Biological Diversity

• Colorado River District

• Green River Companies

• Living Rivers

• Mabey Wright & James, a water rights law firm

• PacifiCorp, a utility company

• Pipeliners Local Union 798

• Provo Rivers Water Users Association

• Save the Colorado

• Trout Unlimited

• Utah Rivers Council

• U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

• U.S. Department of Interior’s Central Utah Project Completion Act Office

• U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of the Solicitor

• Utah Board of Water Resources

• Western Resource Advocates

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.