It’s been a tough spring for rivers in the Rocky Mountain West. After a winter that never really got started, the snow pack—our primary source for water in our rivers—is historically low in Colorado and throughout the region. Runoff from snow melt is sparse and came early, leaving behind disappointing river peak flows. The last time we were in this situation the river life suffered and it looks like we’re heading that way again.
Despite this dark outlook, we received some great news (along with some refreshing heavy spring rains) here in Denver last week—news that gives us hope for one of our favorite rivers, the Green.
On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) closed the door on a Colorado developer’s attempt to lock in a permit for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline. The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is the proposed massive trans-basin water supply project that would pull up to 81 billion gallons (250,000 acre-feet) of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the Green River and pipe it more than 500 miles over the Continental Divide to Colorado’s Front Range and southeastern Wyoming. This diversion would have devastating impacts on the native fish and wildlife in the Green and Colorado Rivers, batter regional recreational opportunities and jobs that depend on river flows, and potentially be a fatal blow to one of the West’s last great rivers.
Earthjustice had intervened in FERC’s preliminary permit review and filed papers urging the agency to deny the rehearing request. FERC, in its strongly worded order, recognized that the Flaming Gorge Pipeline proposal is poorly defined, and the approval process would be “difficult and lengthy” due to the opposition and controversy surrounding the project. As a result, FERC stated that it would be premature to issue the permit. Importantly, FERC also made clear that its interest is only in the few hydropower components of the project and that it would not be the correct federal agency to license the entire 501-mile pipeline.
This was not the first time the developer, Aaron Million, has been handed a defeat in his attempt to gain federal approval for this boondoggle. Last July, the Army Corps of Engineers terminated its review of the project. And FERC’s action last week was actually a dismissal of request for a do-over on FERC’s earlier denial of the permit.
McCrystie Adams, staff attorney for Earthjustice, had the following statement on FERC’s action:
“This project—and any similar, large-scale transbasin diversions—is the worst way to meet Colorado’s water challenges. Such a project is unnecessary and distracts us from the important work we must do to build a secure water future. Unfortunately, we cannot be confident that this project is dead until Mr. Million and those who might follow his path abandon this futile scheme. We will continue to work to ensure that the Green River is protected and that this and other assaults on the West’s rivers do not succeed.”
So, what’s next? We’re grateful for the victory (and a brief break!) but, while we’re hopeful that this may be the end of the line for the Flaming Gorge Pipeline, we know that this threat is still very much alive. Mr. Million has demonstrated his persistence; after all a lot of money is on the line. He has already stated that he will try again. And, incredibly, others are also interested in the concept of draining the Green River rather than finding sustainable solutions to our water challenges. There’s also a proposal for a nuclear power plant—to be cooled by Green River water—in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, near some of our most cherished National Parks, Monuments, and wildlands and wildwater.
In short, we recognize that the Green River faces many challenges and that there is much work to be done. Fortunately, we’re not alone. Last week our colleagues at American Rivers highlighted the plight of the Green River and the impacts of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline and other threats by including the Green River in its list of “most endangered rivers” in the United States. We hope that you’ll join us in spreading the word about the threats and what may be lost if one of the last great rivers of the West is left dry. And we hope that you will stand with us as we work for the future of the Green and the West’s other great rivers.
Earthjustice is proud to represent a coalition of ten conservation groups with interests throughout the Colorado River Basin in our work on the Flaming Gorge Pipeline: Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Rocky Mountain Wild, Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Living Rivers: Colorado Riverkeeper, and Utah Rivers Council.
The Green River, at Dinosaur National Monument. (NPS)