Lawsuit challenges Utah’s new Green River water contract

Living Rivers: Trump administration failed to consider deals, climate change

Conservation groups sued the Trump administration March 21 to challenge the Interior Department’s decision allowing additional water to be taken from the Green River below Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam. “The decision was made without a full accounting of reduced Colorado River basin flows or how the region’s persistent drought and climate change could harm endangered species and recreation,” said a press release from the environmental group Living Rivers.

Thes lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation failed to consider other pending water contracts, including the Lake Powell Pipeline, which could further deplete the Green and Colorado rivers.

The agency claimed in its environmental assessment that the new Green River Water Rights Exchange contract, signed March 20, would have no significant environmental impact. But it did not consider climate change, drought or over-allocation of water.

“The water resources of the Colorado River Basin are already headed toward irretrievable decline in both quantity and quality,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “The environmental review ignored the reality of declining river flows in the Green River and the rest of the Colorado basin and the connected impacts of this contract and the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline water contract.”

Said Robin Silver, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity, “This review was appalling. The Green and Colorado river systems need a full accounting. Drought, climate change and over-allocation are sucking the Colorado River basin dry right in front of our eyes. But officials ignored declining river flows, pretended this new Green River contract stands alone and ignored multiple proposed water projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. We’ll fight to defend these spectacular rivers.”

Four endangered fish could be harmed by changes to water flows and timing contemplated under the Green River Water Rights Exchange 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, the lawsuit maintains. Endangered species at risk include the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub.

“The 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,” the press release stated.

Zach Frankel, executive director of Utah Rivers Council said, “The bureau’s Green River Block environmental review is a disingenuous facade that ignores the agency’s own climate change warnings and myriad scientific studies about water-supply shortfalls to advance the largest new proposed diversion of the Colorado River, the Lake Powell Pipeline.”

The groups are represented by attorneys from the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Utah Rivers Council is a Utah nonprofit organization that works toward sustainable water use and the protection of Utah’s rivers and aquatic landscapes.