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By Bill Sniffin, Editor Emeritus
Aaron Million insists he’s not a villain. And above all, he affirms that he is not a “water thief”. He’s the guy who’s been working since 2003 to suck water from Wyoming’s Green River and pump it to towns in Colorado.
“I’m just a family guy doing my job. The seven-state Colorado River Compact allocated this water to my state, and so far we’ve had no way to get it,” he says.
Now he thinks he has figured out how to get water. And he thinks the people of Wyoming will be happy to hear this new version of his plan.
Million is tired of the people of Wyoming being mad at him. He points out that by the time he gets access to Green River water as part of his new plan, it has already completely crossed all of Wyoming. He implies that if Wyoming wants to use that water, then go ahead and use it.
His new plan is to install a gate valve on the Green River in Utah that captures water just south of the Flaming Gorge Dam and diverts it through a 325-mile pipeline. Most of the pipeline will return through Wyoming, eventually ending up in Denver and the thirsty towns of the Colorado Front Range. The pipeline route follows what is called the Kinder-Morgan right-of-way which currently includes pipelines. It’s a bold plan.
Million is touting this as a $2.5 billion construction project for Wyoming that is creating jobs and will provide endless property tax revenue to counties and the state.
I’ve been one of Million’s biggest critics since he originally unveiled Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge water pumping plan in 2007. He originally had his eureka moment about of this water diversion in 2003, while working on a graduate degree at Colorado State U.
While I’m still skeptical, it looks like Million is now pressing most of the right buttons to convert opponents into followers with his new plan.
Here are three of his highlights:
First, if successful, his plan would take just 1.3% of the water from the Green River, which flows 4.2 million acre-feet a year. He wants 55,000 acre-feet. Recently, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that it was taking more than 10 times that amount, 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge, and sending it downstream to Arizona’s imperiled Lake Powell.
Second, it could be a big economic development project for Wyoming, with construction jobs and tax revenue. The cost could exceed $2.5 billion, most of which would be spent in Wyoming. Million thinks Cowboy State’s economy could benefit from a boost like this. He said he has a Fortune 500 pipeline company on his team as well as endorsements from the two largest pipeline unions in the United States, including the National Pipeline Union 405, which has a local presence in Wyoming.
“We saddled the horse again and put together a new management team. We are ready to go.
Third, it’s always possible for cities and towns in Wyoming to get some of the water. This could be a boon during times when access to drinking water becomes scarce in some places. Its pipeline would enter southwest Wyoming south of Rock Springs and cross the state to the Cheyenne region where it would turn south toward Colorado. Seven natural gas and other fuel pipelines already follow this route. It actually follows Interstate 80.
Million’s project is also timely because of measurements taken on three gigantic reservoirs on the Colorado River and its tributaries.
From north to south, these are Flaming Gorge in Wyoming-Utah, Lake Powell in Utah-Arizona, and Lake Mead in Arizona-Nevada.
The Mead and Powell dams produce electricity and water levels have fallen so low that their ability to produce is threatened. Million says the reason levels have fallen so low has very little to do with a supposed drought. It’s because of too much overuse of water by the lower basin states, he insists.
Lake Powell’s surface elevation is now at 3,522 feet, which is the lowest since it was originally filled in 1966. If its water level drops to 3,490 feet, its powerhouse electric would stop working.
Flaming Gorge, which was completed in 1964, on the Green River, will release half a million acres of water this spring to provide more water to Lake Powell. The water level at Flaming Gorge could drop 10 feet in August and 15 feet in late summer. This will not affect anglers, but could put pressure on marinas and recreational users.
Meanwhile, Lake Mead near Las Vegas, which is the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, is also near its lowest point. It was created by the Hoover Dam in 1935. This reservoir was named after Wyoming water allocating pioneer legend Elwood Mead of Cheyenne.
Additionally, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) wants to balance water use between the upper Colorado River basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico and the lower basin states, Arizona, Nevada and California, to ensure that power generation can continue for the LeChee Navajo Indian Nation and for the town of Page, AZ.
Officials in all seven states recently decided that things had to change. This was from the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.
Million says the original 1922 pact provided for contingencies like drought. He also says that the lower states used water with reckless abandon. These unnecessary bad practices have come to an end, he says, thankfully. He said these states treated Colorado River water as if they were at a frat party and kept drinking and drinking. The actions of the 2019 agreement have now put an end to those wasteful efforts, he says.
He predicts that Lake Mead and Lake Powell will continue to see increases in the amount of water in reservoirs due to new rules in place.
Million grew up around water projects in an arid area of Green River, UT. He says his family has been involved in four generations of water projects in this area.
“No one I know has had to carry water for their drinking water like my family used to do,” he recalls. “We learned conservation when I was four and beyond. We don’t waste water. I had four siblings. We drew straws to see who got to get into the tub first. You never emptied that tub until five children bathed in it. I know a lot about how not to waste water.
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