Water project creates bad precedent

  Dear HCN,

Heather McGregor's article on the proposed sale of the Collbran reclamation project does a good job of making a complex dispute understandable (HCN, 9/15/97). Nonetheless, there are a couple of points in the article I need to address.

I represent a dozen western Colorado, regional and national environmental groups, as well as the town of Collbran, in opposition to Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's legislation (S. 725) to direct the sale of the Collbran Project to local water districts. We oppose S. 725 for two reasons:

* The bill freezes the public out of the transfer, and

* The bill waives for 40 years key provisions of the Federal Power Act and all relevant environmental laws as they otherwise would apply to the issuance of the FERC power license for the operation of the project's two power plants.

These provisions of S. 725 are bad enough on the ground in western Colorado, but they would create a terrible precedent for other areas of the West. The Bureau of Reclamation has received inquiries regarding the transfer of about 60 reclamation projects in the West. If Collbran transfer proponents, who wrote S. 725, succeed in keeping the public out of the transfer process and waiving environmental laws for Collbran, these inquiries will ripen into a tsunami of proposals to transfer other federal projects (Hoover? Glen Canyon? Grand Coulee?).

We seek to avoid such a situation. Ms. McGregor's article stated that our primary local environmental concern is impact on endangered Colorado River fish. Actually, as long as the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a collaborative effort among Upper Basin states, developers, environmentalists and federal agencies, continues to operate, the greatest threat to the environment is not to these fish. Of course, if the program collapses, as it threatens to from time to time, the impact of the transfer on these fish could be serious. Barring such a collapse, the greater threat to the environment from the transfer is in the Plateau Valley and Plateau Creek (where the project is located), on Grand Mesa (where storage reservoirs operated partly for fish and recreation could be harmed) and in the Grand Valley where the transfer, as directed in S. 725, could fuel more unmitigated development.

We shall try to block S. 725 or to amend it and, failing that, to ask President Clinton to veto the bill.

Bruce Driver

Boulder, Colorado
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