Lawsuit Challenges Utah’s New Green River Water Contract
Trump Administration Failed to Consider Other Water Deals, Climate Change
WASHINGTON― Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today to challenge the Interior Department’s decision allowing additional water to be taken from the Green River below Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam. The decision was made without a full accounting of reduced Colorado River basin flows or how the region’s persistent drought and climate change could harm endangered species and recreation.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation failed to consider other pending water contracts, including the Lake Powell Pipeline, which could further deplete the Green and Colorado rivers.
The agency claimed in its environmental assessment that the new Green River Water Rights Exchange contract signed Wednesday, would have no significant environmental impact. But it did not consider climate change, drought or over-allocation of water.
“The water resources of the Colorado River Basin are already headed toward irretrievable decline in both quantity and quality,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “The environmental review ignored the reality of declining river flows in the Green River and the rest of the Colorado basin and the connected impacts of this contract and the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline water contract.”
“This review was appalling. The Green and Colorado river systems need a full accounting,” said Robin Silver, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Drought, climate change and over-allocation are sucking the Colorado River basin dry right in front of our eyes. But officials ignored declining river flows, pretended this new Green River contract stands alone and ignored multiple proposed water projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. We’ll fight to defend these spectacular rivers.”
Four endangered fish could be harmed by changes to water flows and timing contemplated under the Green River Water Rights Exchange contract and other pending water deals. Changes to Flaming Gorge Dam operations necessary to accommodate the water contracts and drought-contingency planning could be devastating for these fish and other species. Endangered species at risk include the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub.
The river includes fragile riparian areas and wetlands, as well as breathtaking canyons popular with rafters. It winds through Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Dinosaur National Monument, Ouray National Wildlife Refuge and Canyonlands National Park before joining up with the Colorado River.
“The Bureau’s Green River Block environmental review is a disingenuous facade that ignores the agency’s own climate change warnings and myriad scientific studies about water-supply shortfalls to advance the largest new proposed diversion of the Colorado River, the Lake Powell Pipeline,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council.
The groups are represented by attorneys from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Opponents of the exchange were also at the contract signing.
Duane Moss, director of the Ute Indian Tribe’s Water Resources Department, said the tribe “highly objects to the agreement.”
“The water rights they’re using were set aside under the Central Utah Project to benefit the Uintah Basin and specifically the Ute Indian Tribe,” Moss said.
The Ute Indian Tribe is one of the Native American groups that resides within the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation located in central-eastern Utah.
Lawsuit challenges Utah plan to get water from Flaming Gorge
Written by Associated Press
March 21, 2019
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Conservation groups sued the U.S. government Thursday over a new agreement that will allow Utah to take water from the Flaming Gorge Dam.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation didn’t properly assess the effects on water levels, endangered fishes and recreation on the Green River in approving an agreement signed Wednesday between the federal agency and state of Utah, the Center for Biological Diversity and three other organizations say in the lawsuit.
The plan allows Utah to get up to 72,600 acre-feet of water annually for 50 years from the Flaming Gorge Dam near the Utah-Wyoming border in exchange for giving up water rights from the Green River and its tributaries.
John Weisheit, of the Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper organizations that are among the groups suing, said the Bureau of Reclamation ignored studies that indicate there won’t be enough water in that time period for all the states and entities that need water from the ecosystem.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s assessment of the project that determined it would have no significant environmental impact didn’t take into account drought, climate change or other potential water proposals in the West such as the Lake Powell pipeline that could deplete the Green and Colorado rivers, he said.
“There is a huge disconnect between science and policy,” Weisheit said. “That’s not wet water, that’s paper water. This is just irresponsible.”
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Marlon Duke declined comment on the lawsuit, saying the agency can’t respond until it is formally served with the lawsuit.
The agency said in a news release Wednesday about the agreement that it represented a productive partnership and maximized value from the available water resources.
Utah state officials didn’t immediately have comment Thursday on the lawsuit.
Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said in the Wednesday news release the plan gives the state a reliable water source while benefiting the Green and Colorado rivers.
Utah was one of seven states that this week that, after years of negotiations, reached agreement on a plan to protect the Colorado River amid a prolonged drought.
Written by BRADY McCOMBS Associated Press.
Conserve Southwest Utah’s Green River Water Exchange Contract Comments FINAL on the Green River Block.