Appeal challenges federal approval of water contract threatening Utah’s Green River
WASHINGTON― Conservation groups today appealed a recent federal court ruling that confirmed the Trump administration’s approval of a contract to draw additional water from the Green River beneath Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam.
In July, a Utah federal court upheld the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2019 environmental review of the new Green River Block Exchange contract, despite neglecting climate change, drought, or overallocation of water.
“The Bureau’s environmental review ignored the fact that rivers in the Green River and the rest of the Colorado Basin are declining due to the warming climate, and also ignored the related implications of this contract and the proposed water contract for the Lake Powell Pipeline,” said John Wisdom from Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “It makes no sense that the court ignored these flaws in the analysis. It is clear that the Bureau’s prognoses are dangerously wrong. “
Today’s appeal in the U.S. 10th Court of Appeals continues the conservation groups’ challenge against the Bureau’s environmental review, which failed to provide a full accounting of the reduced flows of the Colorado River basin or reflect on how the ongoing drought and climate change threatened the area Species could harm and recreation.
The groups also urged the agency’s failure to consider other pending water contracts before entering into the contract. These contracts include the Lake Powell Pipeline, which could further deplete the Green and Colorado Rivers.
“It is amazing that the court has given in to the magical thinking of the Bureau of Reclamation and ignored the fact that the Colorado River drainage basin is drying up,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pretending that our rivers are not draining, drought and climate change are not happening is a dangerous path that will further harm endangered species and world-class recreational facilities. We will continue to fight to defend these spectacular rivers. “
The current reservoir level at Lake Powell is well below the “stress test” simulations that federal scientists conducted in 2018 and 2020. These simulations included projections used to develop documents for planning drought emergencies from 2014 to 2019 at 3,659 feet. In mid-August, that projection was 106 feet too high.
“We must continue to argue against the Bureau’s approval of this fiasco because it is based on the agency’s denial of climate change – even if America’s two largest reservoirs hit all-new lows as a result of this mega-drought,” said Zach Frankel, Utah executive director Rivers Council. “Anyone who thinks there is still untapped water to be transferred to in Colorado should try launching a boat on one of those disused, parched boat ramps in Powell or Mead.”
Four critically endangered fish can be harmed by changes in water flow and schedule under the contract and other pending water deals. Changes to Flaming Gorge Dam operations required to accommodate water contracts and drought contingency planning could be devastating to these fish and other species. Critically endangered species include the Colorado piceminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub, and bone tail chub.
The Green River includes fragile riparian areas and wetlands, as well as breathtaking canyons that are popular with rafters. It meanders through Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Dinosaur National Monument, Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, and Canyonlands National Park before flowing into the Colorado River.
“With the worsening drought in the west, we have no time to lose when it comes to climate solutions to protect the health of our communities and the environment,” said Carly Ferro, director of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter. “Even so, the Bureau of Reclamation offered an inadequate review with costly consequences. We will continue to fight to protect the water resources that are vital to human life and livelihood. “
The groups are represented by lawyers in the Center for Biodiversity.