January 24, 2008

Water pipeline planned from Bailey to Conifer: $10 million project could serve commercial, residential users - "Rehosted courtesy of Evergreen Newspapers"
By Pamela Lawson

John McMichael, a former co-founder of Colorado Natural Gas (pictured) recently revealed plans to install a $10 million pipeline along the corridor to pump water from the Platte River in Bailey to Conifer to reduce impacts of water use on private wells. Photo by Pamela Lawson

A former co-founder of Colorado Natural Gas is spearheading a $10 million plan to pump water from the South Platte River in Bailey to Conifer for commercial and residential use.

John McMichael, a Morrison resident who left the gas company last year, has been in the business of installing pipelines for the better part of his career, which once included work in the oil and gas business in Oklahoma.

“I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘Boy, if you’d just bring water in (the pipes),’ ” he said, referring to when he worked for the gas company.

McMichael has been working on his water supply plan for about two years. The proposed $10 million project would involve two plastic pipelines — potable and effluent lines — that would run about 13 miles between the two communities in the 285 Corridor. McMichael received a state permit to build the project in December, he said, and he has filed his plan with the state engineer’s office. He must still make his way through water court, but he remains confident that process will go smoothly.

When McMichael applied for the state water permit last May, he was required to notify 35 entities, including the Denver Water Board, and no one contested the plan, he said.

“This is tributary water,” McMichael said. “The big advantage is to take pressure off the wells.”

It’s a different approach to a water supply, but it is not a new one, he said.

“The oldest way to perfect a water right is to create a diversion for beneficial use,” McMichael said.

McMichael, who moved to the 285 Corridor about 18 years ago, is the primary person behind the project, which is filed with the state as Conifer Water LLC, though he has hired a water engineer to help with the details, and he is partnering with a mutual fund organization for financing.

The permit he received is a Substitute Water Supply Plan. It is good for one year and can be renewed up to five years. The “substitute” reference means that river water is being substituted for well water, according to McMichael. To make the plan permanent, it must be filed in water court, and McMichael will do so once customers are identified, along with the amount of water needed.

The current permit allows him to initially move about 240 acre-feet per year as identified in his plan based on potential clients who have already shown an interest, he said.

Jeff Deatherage, a professional engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources who oversees the South Platte River Basin, said the permit was granted because McMichael is proposing to serve developments that already have water rights and augmentation plans that have been approved by water court.

McMichael hopes that municipalities along the route will take advantage of the pipeline. He is planning to pre-sell use of the water, based on a per-acre-foot, one-time charge.

Pumping the water from the South Platte River is an opportunity to avoid straining wells within existing water districts or others nearby, he claims. Some of the metropolitan districts between Bailey and Conifer include Kings Valley and the Conifer Town Center. Another includes Will-O-Wisp, which currently provides water for more than 100 homes and may be responsible in the future for supplying water to about 450 new homes in Pine Junction as part of a planned development there. (Another could involve a development being proposed near Shaffers Crossing.)

Deatherage further explained McMichael’s plan.

“He is proposing, instead of using wells, to use water diverted from the Platte, but he is still using the water rights in those augmentation plans to replace the impact or depletion to the South Platte,” Deatherage said.

McMichael will be required to meet strict guidelines of accountability for every gallon of water that flows through the lines, including the effluent.

He may also build his own treatment plant related to the project to ensure the effluent is treated properly.

The water would be removed from the river a short distance from the town of Bailey, and it would be replaced in the same general location of river, according to McMichael, though there may be a delay in that process of 30 to 45 days.

He is the first to propose the plan in this area, according to Deatherage.

“There are lots of augmentation plans out there that do essentially the same thing — take a water right and change the place of use or type of use. The bottom line is to prevent injury to water users,” he said.

“This is just making a change to some part of that. That is where our supply plan comes in — changing the way they are getting water to the developments but not changing the water rights that they are using to replace depletions.”

Pumping the water uphill is “not as daunting” as it might seem, according to McMichael. The elevation gain between Bailey and Conifer, at its highest point around Richmond Hill, is about 754 feet. He would build the pipeline 6 feet underground along county and state rights-of-way and purchase private rights-of-way if necessary.

McMichael has yet to engineer the actual pipeline, but he said it’s not a complicated endeavor — based on his past experience installing pipelines — and would take only six months to build.

If his plan holds water, he hopes to begin construction in the summer of 2008.

Contact staff writer Pamela Lawson at Pamela@evergreenco.com

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