SALT LAKE CITY — Environmental groups led by anti-nuclear activists HEAL Utah are challenging a judicial ruling that upheld Utah's decision to allow Green River water to be used in a proposed nuclear power plant.

The groups contend Utah 7th District Judge George Harmond erred last fall when he upheld a decision by Utah State Engineer Kent Jones granting more than 50,000-acre feet of water for the Blue Castle Holdings plant.

Jones approved the transfer of 50,300 acre-feet of water from the Kane and San Juan County conservancy districts — water that will be ultimately diverted from the Green River in a withdrawal the groups say is not sustainable.

“The Colorado River basin is already over-allocated,” said John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. “Shortages will likely begin next year for lower basin states and there is a strong chance that hydropower stops at Glen Canyon Dam before this decade is even over.”

The judge's ruling, however, backed Jones' decision, noting that the flows of the Green River — never under regulation due to shortages — hold 369,000 acre-feet of water that is available for development. The water necessary to cool the twin-reactor nuclear power plant, the ruling said, represents 1.22 percent of the mean average flow.

Opponents of the plant — which is still undergoing the federal licensing process through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission — also challenged the decision on economic grounds.

“They’ve raised less than 0.1 percent of the total cost of these projects,” said Park City attorney John Flitton of Flitton Babalis, representing the groups.

“What they’re trying to do is get a permit to sell to someone else, and while they wait, they’re tying up water which is increasingly important."

The plant, slated for property just west of Green River in Emery County, would produce 3,000 megawatts of power — enough to supply 50 percent of Utah's power as traditional coal-fired plants come under increasing environmental regulations.

Blue Castle Holdings' president and CEO is Aaron Tilton, a former Utah lawmaker from Utah County who has said his project will withstand judicial scrutiny, meet stringent licensing and safety requirements imposed by federal regulators and provide an alternative, clean source of power for Utah consumers.

The appeal, filed before the Utah State Court of Appeals Wednesday, seeks to unravel those arguments.

“It’s past time for Tilton to admit what we all know — his nuclear scheme is all smoke and no fire,” says Christopher Thomas, HEAL Utah’s executive director. “This project costs too much, uses too much water, and produces expensive power the state doesn’t even want to buy. We hope the Court of Appeals will see that under Utah law, it should not proceed.”

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