(CBS4) – A Fort Collins man is driving a proposed 325 mile pipeline to bring water from northeast Utah to the northern portion of Colorado’s Front Range. It could cost Aaron a million dollars to build.
He claims he has enough support from private investors to make his pipeline dream a reality.
“The reality is Colorado needs an alternative water supply,” said Million.
Nine years later, state and federal regulators have denied him approval.
The final setback came in November when the state of Utah again rejected the idea. A spokesman for the Utah State Engineer who refused to give project approval said the state office is waiting for the next million step.
Millions recognize that this could be done through lawyers and the courts.
“The project is on track. This is just a process. We are moving forward on different fronts. “
It’s a process that began in the basement of the Colorado State University Library when the now 60-year-old graduated with a degree in resource economics. He found a 1913 map of usable grades stretching north from the Green River near Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Wyoming and then parallel to Interstate 80 into the Cheyenne area. When he found the map, most of this route was already set up with a natural gas pipeline.
His idea was to lay new pipes over the existing natural gas pipelines, using previous permits.
“We could stand on the shoulders of previous work,” said Million.
The rest of the concept: solar and wind powered pumps and self-piston natural gas engines would drive the water uphill to Rock Springs. From there, electricity would be generated by inline turbines as the water flows downhill.
A brand new section of the Cheyenne pipeline would bring the new water to an as-yet-built reservoir north of Fort Collins, preferably near the Rawhide power station, where the newly generated electricity could be plugged directly into the power station’s transmission lines and distribution system.
Another branch of the pipeline is tentatively slated to descend the Dale Creek drainage from Wyoming and direct more flow into the upper sections of the Poudre River. That’s an area in desperate need, said Million, who claims to be an avid fisherman and kayaker. For more than half a year the Poudre has no river at all.
“There isn’t enough to fill a beer can,” he said in January in the river. His project would change that. “This will be a completely secure underground system that can deliver 365 days a year. This will be a completely closed system. “
Million made the concept the subject of his graduate degree in college, and he hasn’t given up on the idea since. Work on it began in earnest in 2012. It’s now called the Water Horse Project.
“No one has ever questioned the ability of water to move from Wyoming to Colorado, from Utah to Wyoming, from Utah to Colorado,” Million told CBS4, citing a precedent. “The right to move water from one upper basin state to another is absolute.”
Current water utilities are not so sure and are skeptical that the project will ever meet federal government guidelines.
“I can’t see how they’re doing this through Wyoming and Utah,” said Rep. Jeni Arndt (D-D53), chairman of the state assembly’s Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee. “I don’t know how they’re going to make it realistic.”
She also asked if Utah would choose to part with its own water as it would benefit the citizens of Colorado.
Million, who grew up on a ranch in Green River, Utah and knows the usage requirements for the Colorado River (which the Green eventually flows into), said the numbers were on his side. His project aims to draw 55,000 acres of water annually from the Green River, which has a total flow of 4.2 million acres of water.
“This is half a percent of the river,” said Million. “This green is a huge river with very little consumption, very little compared to the Colorado. The green has none of it. It’s very flexible. “
Million points out that the headwaters of the Green River originate near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. By adding runoff from these mountains to supply the Front Range, Colorado is “increasing the diversification of its water portfolio,” he said.
“This helps differentiate our entire water supply. If you have a savings account and it’s depleted, you are SOL. But if you also have a 401k … “
Arndt agrees with this.
“I can see why people here are trying to get more water,” she said, noting that 80% of the state’s water supply is on the western slope, where only 20% of the population live. “Aaron is talking about getting more of the resource.”
She adds that it’s not that simple. Learning to reduce consumption must also be part of the long-term plan.
“We have a disparity between the growing population and the supply. We have to conserve. We have to change the way we live. We can’t have everything we have now. “
Municipal water managers share the same concerns.
“The city of Greeley is growing. We are projected to double the population by 2050, ”said Adam Jokerst, deputy director of water resources for the city of Greeley.
In an unusual move, Greeley City Council is expected to approve the purchase of an underground storage facility in March.
The Terry Ranch project will host a new water supply under 10,000 acres of grassland near Carr, Colorado. Engineers have determined that there is a natural aquifer there – one that is not currently served by a natural stream, river, or lake, but that promises to hold back the same amount of water that would be in a surface lake.
It will contain an estimated 1.2 million acres of water – 48 times more than what the city of Greeley currently uses annually.
“It really is the capstone project for Greeley,” said Jokerst. “It replaces a large reservoir that had a lot of environmental impact. We are very happy about it. “
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages water supplies for six communities, is working on two new reservoirs.
The first, Chimney Hollow Reservoir, connects to nearby Carter Lake west of Loveland.
The second, more complex and controversial project is the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). There are two new reservoirs (Glade and Galeton) from the Poudre and South Platte rivers, several pumping stations and kilometers of new pipelines.
“A lot of people move here from areas where water is a problem that needs to be removed, not water that is not enough,” said Jeff Stahla, spokesman for the NCWCD. “It is a reminder to those of us who may be new to the state of Colorado that water is precious here. It reminds us that we live in a semi-arid part of the country. We have enough of it to give us good beer and agriculture, live in great cities, and have great farms, but we don’t have to waste any. “
Both agencies are cautious about the concept of Aaron Million.
“Greeley is not against the project,” said Jokerst of Greeley.
“Our organization is dedicated to the projects we have before us,” followed Stahla from northern Colorado. “To others trying to fill some of the water supply gaps that may arise later this century … we are neutral on such matters.”
RELATED: The Historic Colorado Wildfire Season Could Affect Drinking Water For Millions
It’s not exactly a “welcome to the neighborhood”.
There is a reason.
The most significant impact of the Water Horse Project, if approved, may come from the uninvited collision of ideals. In particular, the principles of the past and the needs of the future.
For the first time in our state’s modern history, public resources could mix with private investments in the water world.
Before that, they mixed oil and water as well.
The Colorado Water Act declared water a public resource in the 1860s when the state constitution was formed. Water rights have been and are granted to those who can prove their immediate use.
For example, water rights don’t work like land ownership. A water right cannot be bought and kept idle in order to increase its value over time.
This activity is referred to as “speculation” by the water industry, and for a century and a half such profit-making activities have been excluded from the development of the water supply.
RELATED: Construction of Water Pipeline Begins to Serve 40 Colorado Communities
Private development “has to be balanced with the public interest,” said Jokerst. “Water is owned by the state and the citizens. A water right only gives someone the right to use it. I find it very dangerous to allow too much speculation in the water. “
This would raise prices, which without privatization would have increased six-fold over the past decade.
“Early on,” added Stahla, “the people who developed the Colorado Constitution and Colorado Water Act realized that when water is made a mere commodity, it really does harm to other industries like agriculture and others can add – this is unintentional. ” the tourism industry and mining. “
RELATED: Denver Water Gross Reservoir Expansion Project Receives Final Federal Approval
A study passed by the state parliament last year confirmed this position. In fact, the study group asked for suggestions on how to strengthen it.
Millions argued that any privatization would actually bring the water business closer to the beginning.
“The private sector initiated water development in this state,” he said. “It’s a public good, like a hospital, but it’s kept private.”
Both sides agree that northern Colorado will need more water in the future. However, changes to the current system may not be made anytime soon.
“Knowing that it took us 20 years to get a permit to build the Glade Reservoir in Larimer County, building a reservoir is a complex task,” said Stahla. “We worked very hard to build a reservoir and we’re getting very close. I would say ‘Godspeed’ to anyone trying to build another reservoir in northern Colorado. “
MP Arndt agreed, also calling Million’s Water Horse Project a 20 year effort.
During this time, front range communities will have to decide whether it depends on where the additional supply is coming from and whether it will be provided by a government agency or a company, she said.
The values can change over time and under pressure.
“We need a community conversation – that’s a good way of saying ‘a political fight’ about how we’re changing,” said Arndt.