Aaron Million's Flaming Gorge pipeline would be flaming expensive, new study claims

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Aaron Million.
Real-estate investor Aaron Million's audacious proposal to provide water to a thirsty Front Range by building a 550-mile pipeline from southwestern Wyoming, the subject of a 2009 feature by Joel Warner, is no cheap fix. Two years ago, Million estimated the cost of the project at around $3 billion. But a new study commissioned by opponents says the project could be three times more expensive, by far the most costly water diversion in Colorado history.

The pipeline would move 81 billion gallons of water annually from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir to municipalities in Colorado, including several in Douglas County that are seeking solutions to burgeoning growth and a diminishing supply. There's a host of unknowns in the proposal, and in an even vaguer public-sector pursuit of a similar pipleine. But a new report prepared by economist George Oamke for Western Resource Advocates attempts to crunch the numbers and come up with a range of actual costs to recreation interests in the Flaming Gorge area as well as to end-users in Colorado.

Using what's known as a "Monte Carlo simulation" to take into account numerous uncertainties and variables in the project's financing schemes, the study concludes that water delivered by such a pipeline would be two to ten times more expensive than water from other recent or proposed diversions. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has pegged construction costs alone at $7 to $9 billion, triple Million's figure, and Oamke calculates that Flaming Gorge water could cost up to $4700 per acre-foot per year -- nearly seven times the anticipated cost of other projects that are driving rate increases in some Front Range cities.

At its meeting in Grand Junction next week, the CWBC is expected to discuss whether it will commit $150,000 to a task force to study the Flaming Gorge proposals.

The complete Western Resources report can be found here, or you can check out the executive summary.

Million, for his part, is no doubt hoping to get better press than he received this past May, when he was accused of stalking an ex-girlfriend to her wedding in Italy.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Aaron Million provides list of users for his 550-mile pipe dream."

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The late Sam Kinnison used to propose a solution for famine victims in Africa involving sending U-Hauls so that they could move to where the food was.

I mention this because a similar solution would be appropriate for the Front Range as well. Rather than bringing in more water, which will result in more people, more traffic, more sprawl, etc. why not work on providing incentives for recent Colorado transplants (say, within the past 15 years) to move to the Midwest where they actually have water? That sounds easier.


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Yowza-- who can actually even afford this? The really scary part is that it's not just Million who wants to build this pipeline. I hope the CWCB wakes up and shuts down this funding.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

Surely even more vigorous conservation efforts should be undertaken locally before we spend billions of dollars on a 550-mile pipeline!

One obvious policy would be to use progressive water rates and the operation of the market to encourage personal conservation and generate revenue -- deliver water to non-agricultural, non-industrial users based on the number of people using water, charging the cost of delivering water to users who use only a minimal amount and progressively increasing rates of those who use more.  Such a pricing structure would force us to consider the cost of using water for non-essential uses in proportion to how much we want use.  If (when) it becomes twice as expensive to water a suburban lawn, more homeowners will xeriscape, but those who can afford it and elect to would have the freedom to maintain lush lawns -- now we impose arbitrary limits on watering which limit personal freedom and fail to reward conservation.  This essentially painless change in water pricing could achieve conservation improvements adequate to delay massive new capital investments, and the desire to use more water than is absolutely necessary could entirely fund new projects.

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