From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 1 - April 1, 2004
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Transbasin diversion study continues

by Cat Urbigkit

Wyoming Water Development Commission Director Mike Besson said in an interview Tuesday morning that his agency is continuing its internal study examining transbasin water diversion from the Green River drainage to the North Platte drainage.

"That report might be done this fall," Besson said, at which time he'll present it to Governor Dave Freudenthal and the WWDC.

Besson said if his conversations with Freudenthal are any indication, once Freudenthal has the study in hand, "It'll just sit there," with no action being taken.

Over the course of the last year while WWDC staff have looked into the possibility of doing a transbasin diversion, Besson and his staff have given numerous public presentations about the options under consideration for the transbasin diversion. The presentatio n has included maps detailing the idea, but when asked about it Tuesday, Besson said he won't release the maps until the study has been completed and sent on Freudenthal and WWDC.

A February 2003 memo from Besson to Freudenthal obtained by the Examiner noted that water development engineers were analyzing several transbasin diversion alternatives to bring 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of Green River water to the North Platte Basin. Alternatives include diverting water from the Little Sandy River and possibly from the East Fork of the New Fork River by gravity to the Sweetwater River. Other options include pumping water from Fontenelle Reservoir to the Sweetwater River and from the Green River below the City of Green River to the North Platte Basin near Rawlins.

When asked if he has spent time recently talking to other agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, about the transbasin diversion, Besson said that he had not. Besson said that when he spoke with BuRec officials about the idea earlier in the process, "They were supportive."

Besson said the BuRec officials knew, as he did, that the idea would generate a lot of discussion and debate.

Besson said that there isn't enough water in the upper reaches of this basin to provide for a gravity-fed diversion, so any diversion will have to come lower in the drainage, from either Fontenelle or Flaming Gorge reservoir.

"My preference would be Flaming Gorge," Besson said, adding that because it is so far south in Wyoming, "There would be no consequence for Wyoming."

Besson said while people in the upper reaches of the drainage react with anger to his agency's proposal to remove water from the Green River Basin, they should be turning their ire to Utah instead.

"I don't think anyone's said 'boo' to that one," Besson said, even though it would involve sending 600,000 acre feet of water out of the state in a pipeline.

Utah wants to pipe its share of Colorado River Compact water out of Fontenelle and deliver it to the Wasatch Front, Besson said.

Besson said his counterproposal for a transbasin diversion within Wyoming's borders "sends a message to them: No. We'll use the water in Wyoming."

Besson said while Utah officials have a study examining their water-piping idea from Fontenelle, Wyoming's study "allows us to say, 'Wait a minute. Wyoming has plans down the road to fully develop our water supply.' "

Besson said he feels the opposition to the transbasin diversion is caused by concern that state officials won't be addressing water shortages in this area. Besson said his message to Sublette County-area citizens is: "We're going to pay attention to your needs."

And if the water is diverted from Flaming Gorge as Besson wants, "There's no impact at all to Wyoming," he said.

Utah Water Resources Director Larry Anderson said in an interview Tuesday that the water pipeline proposal really isn't even on the table at this time. He said that in October 2002, his agency completed an internal study on the "Green River Pipeline." That study looked at moving water out of either Fontenelle or Flaming Gorge, with Flaming Gorge appearing more feasible, for a number of reasons. Anderson said piping water out of Flaming Gorge appears "to be less of a political issue ... even though both are federal projects."

"It hasn't gone anywhere and it likely won't go anywhere," Anderson said of the proposal. "That's my opinion at this time."

Why won't it go anywhere? Because Utah had other options that it's going for in a big way. The environmental impact statement for the Central Utah project, which would provide additional water to the Wasatch Front, is now out for review. Water users in the Bear River drainage are in the process of acquiring rights-of-way to bring additional water from the Bear River to the Wasatch Front as well.

"It may not go anywhere," Anderson said of the pipeline feasibility study. "We may stick it on a shelf for 20 years." Even if someone wanted to dust it off and re-examine the issue, what isn't known is if Utah has enough water in the Colorado River to do the project, and if not, where the water rights would come from, Anderson said. An additional factor will be future negotiations with Indian Tribes within Utah over water, with the amount of the reserved rights undetermined at this time.

The Green River Pipeline is 30 to 40 years away, Anderson said, "unless something really unexpected happens."

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