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Fontenelle Dam Expansion is the Biggest, Dumbest proposed new diversion in the Colorado River Basin
June 8, 2017
Over the last few months, the proposed expansion of Fontenelle Dam in Wyoming on the Green River has taken some baby steps forward. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to order the Bureau of Reclamation to begin studying the project, and the same bill has been introduced into the U.S. Senate. Both bills still require a permitting process, including the National Environmental Policy Act review that would likely take years.
Further, on June 7, 2017, the Walton Family Foundation included the project in its list of “recommended” “critical infrastructure” projects that the federal government should fund. Ironically (or non-sensically), in the same report by the Foundation, they also continue to lament the falling levels in Lake Mead and the threat to water supplies in the lower basin while supporting the massive Fontenelle expansion which is the biggest proposed new diversion upstream.
In our opinion, the Fontenelle Dam Expansion is the biggest, dumbest proposed new diversion in the entire Colorado River basin. The re-engineering of the dam would allow the “active storage” to increase by 85,000 acre feet, which would allow Wyoming to divert a new ~150,000 acre feet of water out of the Green River before it reaches the Colorado River, every year.
What would Wyoming even do with the water? A great question.
150,000 acre feet is a massive amount of water (48 billion gallons). The only two even remote uses are for agriculture or fracking in Western Wyoming where there are few towns and people. If the water was used for agriculture, the state would have to fund a massive expansion of irrigation by converting a roughly equal amount of dry sagebrush landscape into irrigated farms. Imagine a project to convert over 100,000 acres of sagebrush into irrigated farms; imagine further how little money would be generated from the hay or other crops grown on those farms. A boondoggle in the making, for sure.
Using the water for fracking is an equal boondoggle. There are thousands of natural gas wells in Southwestern Wyoming, with proposals for thousands more. But, each well needs about 5 acre feet to be fracked, and thus the 150,000 acre feet of water/year would be enough to frack 30,000 wells every single year, an impossible number of wells even in a petro-state dreamland where wells only need to be fracked once or twice during their 10 to 20-year lifespan.
The truth is that Wyoming is trying to get control of the water to firm up its allocation, thus hording the water so that the downstream users — and the river — can’t get it. In fact, State spokesperson’s have said exactly that — they are trying to get their water firmed up and allocated before the political and water system in the lower basin collapses due to the falling levels in Lake Mead. Wyoming, the least populated state, would likely draw a short straw if any political re-apportionment of the Colorado River were to take place, so they want to store their water now.
In a National Environmental Policy Act review process, the very first question Wyoming will have to answer is: “What is the ‘purpose and need’ of the water?” Wyoming has little or none.
Save The Colorado strongly opposes the Fontenelle Dam Expansion. The project would further drain the river system, further endanger fish, further deplete and degrade the environment, and further deplete recreational opportunities. The Colorado River system needs to be protected and restored, not further drained.