Last week, we reported on the mounting criticism of Aaron Million's proposed 550-mile pipeline to deliver water to the Front Range. The opponents' campaign is just beginning, though -- as new billboards take that message to the public and to water officials considering the Flaming Gorge pipeline at a meeting in Grand Junction that's under way at this writing.
Million's controversial plan, the subject of a 2009 feature by Joel Warner, would move 81 billion gallons of water annually from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border to municipalities in Colorado. A new study commissioned by Western Resource Advocates and other opponents describes it as the most costly water diversion in state history, with end-user costs per acre-foot of water running seven times higher than other diversion projects. (Here's a quick rundown of the calculations.)
The Colorado Water Conservation Board has pegged the cost of the pipeline at somewhere between $7 billion and $9 billion, up to triple the cost of Million's own estimates. Despite that daunting figure, the CWCB is looking into spending $150,000 on a task force to study the project.
When boardmembers arrived in Grand Junction to take part in that discussion, they were greeted by three billboards erected by a cadre of conservation groups, including Western Resource Advocates, Save the Colorado and the Colorado Environmental Coalition. The signs feature the dried-up, parched delta where the Colorado River supposedly (but only rarely) reaches the Sea of Cortez and refer viewers to an online petition at a website address -- which, according to WRA spokesman Peter Roessmann, shut down at midnight last night after collecting 21,300 signatures protesting the plan.
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Here's a larger view of the billboard:
While nobody's asking for $9 billion up front for the construction tab, WRA's economist contends that the long-term costs of the project to end-users as well as recreational interests in the Flaming Gorge area would be formidable. And that point, Roessmann says, has already been made with boardmembers. "We know they've seen the signs," he says.