High cost, long schedule | SteamboatToday.com

High cost, long schedule

Report details possible Yampa River water transfer

Mike Lawrence

— A project to transfer Yampa River water to the Front Range would cost nearly $4 billion and take 17 years to complete, according to an engineering report released Monday.

The Centennial office of Black and Veatch, an international engineering and consulting firm, recently completed its Multi-Basin Water Supply Investigation for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The district includes eight counties on the Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

The detailed investigation, a report of more than 70 pages, outlines costs and logistics for the construction of three possible pipelines that would stretch from reservoirs north of the Moffat County town of Maybell to Barr Lake, northwest of Denver International Airport. The pipeline would cover a distance of about 250 miles and would require tunnels beneath the Continental Divide.

Any of the three proposed pipeline routes would cost a minimum of $3.8 billion and would likely not be completed until 2023, the report states. The three pipeline routes considered by Black and Veatch are a northern route close to the Wyoming border; a central route passing through the North Park region and tunneling under the Zirkel Wilderness Area; and a southern route that would cross the Yampa River near Craig and again south of Steamboat Springs, then begin tunneling east near where southbound U.S. Highway 40 ascends Rabbit Ears Pass.

Reservoirs at both ends of the transfer would hold more than 500,000 acre-feet of water, according to the report. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, enough to meet the needs of a family of five for a year.

The northern water district hired Black and Veatch in June to begin feasibility studies into a pipeline that would transfer Yampa River water to the Front Range, home to some of the fastest growing areas in the nation.

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“The Yampa River has sufficient quantity and the best quality of water potentially available for diversion, and therefore, was selected as the focus of this study,” the report states. “Such a project is feasible and merits further consideration as well as serving as a benchmark by which other alternatives may be judged. The scope of this study is reconnaissance in nature.”

The report states that “feasible” means the project could “utilize proven construction techniques at a cost that is consistent with the price of water along the Front Range.”

Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the northern water district, has said that water can be sold on the Front Range for “in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $15,000” per acre-foot.

Northern water district engineer Carl Brouwer said the district’s next step will be to identify other entities, such as the state of Colorado or Denver Water, that could be partners in a transfer of water from the Yampa River. “This is in its infancy,” Brouwer said of the project.mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com