Nuking Canyonlands?


A coalition of private citizens and activist groups filed suit in the Utah court system yesterday afternoon to force a proper review of a water rights application that is intended to provide cooling water for a proposed nuclear power plant in the vicinity of two national parks, namely Arches and Canyonlands. If built, this power plant would completely evaporate 53,600 acre-feet of water from the Green River, which is the last hope and refuge for a barely-clinging-to-life population of native fish.

Some thirty-years ago vocal activists such as Ed Abbey, David Brower, Randy Hayes warned the public that unless people got engaged, the transformation of the Colorado Plateau, from a stunning wilderness to an energy colony, would soon be complete.

On the shoulders of the Colorado River basin, of which the Green is the major most tributary, other colonizing energy developments continue to invade into a space that basically remains unspoiled with sun-drenched beauty. This includes the relentless advancement of fracking operations for both gas and oil, strip mining proposals for coal, tar sands and oil shale. Fortunately, the call is being heeded to protect a watershed that John Wesley Powell predicted would eventually fall into collapse unless the spirit of community arose to protect it.

In 2007 a company known as Blue Castle Holdings was formed in Utah with the purpose of building a nuclear power plant in a farming community also known as Green River. As required by law, the Utah Division of Water Rights, led by the State Engineer Kent Jones, is processing an application to transfer points of water diversion from San Juan County (San Juan River) and Kane County (Colorado River), to Emery County (Green River). These water rights were originally targeted for coal-fired generation of electricity, which are no longer considered feasible to develop.

In 2009 various non-profit organizations, businesses, and individuals filed timely protests, which the State Engineer has supposedly considered for parts of three-years. The requirements that Jones must consider for this water rights application include: 1) existing water rights will not be impaired; 2) will not prove detrimental to the public welfare; 3) are physically feasible; and 4) are economically feasible and not judged to be speculative—by showing adequate funding for the completion of this project (estimated cost is $16-20 billion).

What clearly should have been a slam-dunk denial, Jones shirked his responsibility and essentially passed the buck to the pending review agencies of the federal government, and specifically the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This was to be expected, because no state in the Colorado River basin would dare to constrain themselves from taking more water from a river that has absolutely nothing left to give. Especially Utah, the patriarchal society that too has been transformed from a lifestyle of Adamic husbandry to wild party capitalism. Even the most notorious water developer of all time, the Bureau of Reclamation, asked Jones to use caution when considering this application.

For example, on the matter of speculation, the developer Blue Castle Holdings became embroiled in financial controversy last January when one of their proposed investors, LeadDog Capital, was cited by the Securities Exchange Commission with fraud. The gloomy clouds from the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) controversy of the 1970s are now shadowing in Utah. BCH then scrubbed their webpage of all documents that expressed their initial exuberance with this now fraudulent financial partner, and then had the audacity to issue a press release explaining that the Salt Lake Tribune was exaggerating the facts. Did this public display of alleged he-said-she-said inspire Jones to reconsider his decision? No, it did not, and thus the community that will bear all the impacts of his bad decision must now go to court.

For more information visit the web page of Uranium Watch, a project of Living Rivers.

JOHN WEISHEIT is the conservation director of Living Rivers and the Colorado Riverkeeper.


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