Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 16, 2021

Contact:

John Weisheit, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, (435) 260-2590, john@livingrivers.org
Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275, rsilver@biologicaldiversity.org
Zachary Frankel, Utah Rivers Council, (801) 699-1856, zach@utahrivers.org
Carly Ferro, Sierra Club, (801) 467-9294, Carly.Ferro@sierraclub.org

Appeal Challenges Federal Approval of Water Contract Threatening Utah’s Green River

Agency Failed to Consider Climate Change Science, Future Water Shortages Amid Megadrought

WASHINGTON― Conservation groups today appealed a recent federal court decision upholding the Trump administration’s approval of a contract to allow additional water to be taken from the Green River below Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam.

In July a federal court in Utah upheld the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2019 environmental review for the new Green River Block Exchange contract, despite the agency’s failure to consider climate change, drought or the over-allocation of water.

“The Bureau’s environmental review ignored the reality of declining river flows in the Green River and the rest of the Colorado basin due to warming climate and also ignored the connected impacts of this contract and the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline water contract,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “It makes no sense that the court ignored these shortcomings in the analysis. It is clear the Bureau’s projections were dangerously off base.”

Today’s appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals continues the conservation groups’ challenge to the Bureau’s environmental review, which failed to provide a full accounting of reduced Colorado River basin flows or consider how the region’s persistent drought and climate change could harm endangered species and recreation.

The groups are also challenging the agency’s failure to consider other pending water contracts before entering into the contract. Those contracts include the Lake Powell Pipeline, which could further deplete the Green and Colorado rivers.

“It’s stunning that the court deferred to the Bureau of Reclamation’s magical thinking and ignored the fact that the Colorado River basin is drying up,” said Robin Silver, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pretending that draining our rivers, drought and climate change aren’t happening is a dangerous path that will further harm endangered species and world-class recreation. We’ll keep fighting to defend these spectacular rivers.”

The current reservoir level at Lake Powell is far below the “stress test” simulations federal scientists completed in 2018 and 2020. These simulations included projections used to develop Drought Contingency Planning documents from 2014 to 2019. A 2007 federal record of decision projected Lake Powell would be at 3,659 feet. As of mid-August, that projection was 106 feet too high.

“We have to continue litigating the Bureau’s approval of this fiasco because it’s based on the agency's denial of climate change — even as America’s two largest reservoirs race to historic new lows because of this megadrought,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council. “Anyone who thinks there’s any unused water left to transfer in the Colorado needs to try and launch a boat at one of these closed-down, dried up boat ramps at Powell or Mead.”

Four endangered fish may be harmed by changes to water flows and timing under the 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 Green 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.

“With the west experiencing intensified drought, it is glaringly clear we have no time to waste when it comes to climate solutions to protect the health of our communities and environment,” said Carly Ferro, director of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter. “In spite of this, the Bureau of Reclamation offered an inadequate review with costly consequences. We will continue to fight to protect water resources critical for people’s lives and livelihoods.”

The groups are represented by attorneys at the Center for Biological Diversity.

RSGreen-River-Canyonlands-National-Park-John-Weisheit-FPWC-scr.jpg
Green River winding through Canyonlands National Park near Horse Canyon. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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