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

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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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast