As we noted in a November feature, Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million plans to solve some of Colorado's water woes courtesy of a 550-mile pipeline that would pump water from the Green River in Wyoming to thirsty water users along the Front Range.
But the $2- to $3-billion proposal's drawn fire from both sides of the border and faces competition from a similar proposal being helmed by powerful Parker Water head Frank Jaeger. Million's opponents thought they got a boost when the Army Corps of Engineers, which is evaluating his pipeline project, asked him to submit a list of potential water users by January 2009. Many people believed Million didn't have enough customers for his Regional Watershed Supply Project to satisfy the Corps, and even one of his consultants admitted in November he had only three or four users lined up.
This week, however, Million got the last laugh when he submitted statements of interest from fifteen water users in Wyoming and Colorado. While these weren't formal commitments to buy Million's potential water, he believes they prove there's more than enough demand to justify the pipeline.
"We're very pleased with the level of interest at this juncture," says Million. "I would argue that probably from a historic perspective there's never been a water project that's had such a diverse and numerous list of potential end users."
That list includes the Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District; the city of Brighton; Douglas County; the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District; the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District; the North Sterling Irrigation District and the Prewitt Operating Committee in Sterling, Colorado; the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company; the Windsor Reservoir and Canal Company; the Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District No. 1 in Monument; East Larimer County Water District; Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities; Penely Water Company in Douglas County; Pioneer Canal-Lake Hattie Irrigation District in Wyoming; El Paso County Water Authority; and T-Cross Ranches and Norris Cattle Inc., a ranch company overseen by Million. In total, Million says the potential users' need exceeds 300,000 acre-feet of water a year, 50,000 acre-feet more than what he's proposing to pump out of Wyoming.
"It was a great milestone for moving the project forward," he says. Million adds there have been other promising developments too in his ambitious plan, which, if it gets the permits it needs, is still many years away from being able to break ground. Those include interest from the Department of Defense in the potential hydropower the pipeline could generate as the water running through it flows downhill, which could be used as part of a secure energy grid. Million says he's also working to secure permits needed to take part of the pipeline's water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and address the vocal concerns communities around the reservoir have expressed about the project.
As for his opponents, the ones who predicted he'd never line up enough water users? While Million doesn't shy away from a cowboy-style showdown, he's lately decided to play nice.
"I'd like to look them in the eye and shake their paw, and say, 'We welcome your interest and support,'" he says. "It's the gentlemanly thing to do."
Still he can't resist at least one reference to favorite outlaw Butch Cassidy and his famous sidekick: "Like the Sundance Kid said, 'I'm better when I move.' And we're on the move."