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Less Water For Colorado River If Reservoir Expansion Okayed

Eric Barnes

In the 1960’s, Fontanelle Reservoir in southwest Wyoming was partially built to store water from the Green River for irrigation and industrial use in Western Wyoming. It was never completed, but now a bill has passed the U.S. House that would allow the state of Wyoming to finish the job.

Since the Green River is a major tributary of the Colorado, expanding the reservoir could allow as much as 100,000 more acre feet of water to be diverted from the Colorado River system.

Gary Wockner is director of the Save the Colorado River Campaign. He says there’s no more water in the system to spare.

“There ain’t no water left to store and divert,” he says. “The system is already flatlined.”

Wockner says the problem is that the other Upper Basin states, Utah and Colorado, have also proposed dam projects.

“Everyone is recognizing, or acknowledging through their actions, that climate change is real, and it’s painting a target on the southwest United States and the Colorado River system,” says Wockner.

Wockner says the reservoir expansion project is the largest of several new diversions in Upper Basin states.

“What we’re seeing on the Colorado River right now is just kind of a battle between the Upper Basin states—Colorado, Wyoming, Utah—to sort of get the last legally-allowed drops of water out of the river before the system kind of falls apart and the politics becomes unworkable,” he says.

But Wockner says the Colorado River is already severely over-allocated, and storing water in mountain states like Wyoming means even less water for Lake Mead and Lower Basin states like California and Arizona.

Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming sponsored the bill, which now goes to the Senate. A companion bill sponsored by U.S. Senator John Barrasso has also been introduced in the Senate.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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