Conservation districts take tour of major water issues around Rio Blanco County

RBC I Last week’s Natural Resources Water Tour of the White River Valley began Thursday with a reception and dinner featuring a presentation by John Stulp, who is Gov. John Hickenlooper’s water projects and permit coordinator.

Stulp, the commissioner of agriculture for former Gov. Bill Ritter, and previously a Prowers County commissioner and agricultural producer, focused his talk on implementation of the State Water Plan. He said the plan envisions solving the municipal and industrial water supply gap projected to be 560,000 acre-feet in 15 years, recovering 400,000 acre-feet through water conservation by 2050, ensuring at least 75 percent of Coloradans have land use planning that is tied to water planning and availability within 10 years, and increasing water storage capacity 400,000 acre-feet by 2050.
Stulp’s presentation also reviewed possible sources for funding water plan implementation. Ideas include Green Bonds, public and private partnerships, beverage container fees, ballot initiatives, and a state guaranteed loan fund. Much of the success of the plan implementation depends on the necessary funding for each of the nine basin roundtables in the state, each of which has prepared a Basin Implementation Plan pursuant to the water plan.
Current roundtable funding is coming through a $5 million state watershed health and environmental planning fund.
The meal, served at Meeker’s Heritage Culture Center, was prepared by White River Conservation District President Neil Brennan and his wife, Kari.
Emily Tracy, candidate for the state Senate District 8 seat, and her husband, Del Bush, both from Breckenridge, attended the Stulp dinner. Rio Blanco County is one of seven counties in SD 8.
The Water Tour was sponsored and led by the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD). The latter agency owns and operates the Taylor Draw Dam and Kenney Reservoir immediately upstream of Rangely.
Tour leaders were past White River CD president Gary Moyer, the districts’ Executive Director Callie Hendrickson, and RBWCD Manager Alden Vanden Brink. Vanden Brink is also a vice-chair of the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable.
The tour bus left Friday with nearly 50 people aboard and travelled over Irish Mesa on County Road 15 to look at a Natural Resource Conservation Service-assisted sprinkler irrigation project on Sheridan Ranch property in the Coal Creek drainage.
The group then stopped at the County Road 8 Scenic Byway turnout above the flood irrigated hayfields of the K Bar T and Forrest Nelson Ranches.
There, Meeker’s new Blanco District White River National Forest Ranger Curtis Keetch spoke on forest management issues.
Keetch was followed by Dr. Timothy Gates, a water resources systems analyst and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Colorado State University, talking about the various aspects of flood and sprinkler irrigation, including efficiencies, and the nature of irrigation return flows (IRFs).
Water in the White River downstream is largely composed of IRFs. Vanden Brink suggested Rangely would largely be without water in late summer and early fall without those IRFs. At the same time, those IRFs have a large influence on the river’s water quality and tend to suggest the need for fertilizer and other non-point source pollution management.
At the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center, the group learned about the center’s purpose, sponsorship and looked at a relatively new, highly controllable sprinkler irrigation system. Center operations manager Brandon Sanders led that discussion.
The group ate lunch provided by the RBWCD staff at the Kenney Reservoir boat launch and picnic area, watching jet skiers and water skiers on the lake.
Stulp again addressed the group regarding water plan implementation in the valley via the Basin Implementation Plan of the Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable. Stulp emphasized how much the state’s roundtables had improved the collaboration and positive interaction between and within the nine basins.
After lunch, tour participants were taken from the bus back upstream about 20 miles to the Wolf Creek proposed alternative dam sites off Highway 64 a couple miles north along a fairly rough dirt and gravel road via utility vans. Once there, RBWCD consulting engineer Steve Jamieson of W.W. Wheeler Engineers of Englewood, and Vanden Brink reviewed the dam and storage facility proposal for the group.
Other than helping meet water storage and supply goals of the Colorado Water Plan, the proposed reservoir would meet the needs of the conservancy district, which is now losing 300 acre-feet storage capacity per year to siltation, cutting down on municipal and industrial supply for the Town of Rangely. The proposed reservoir would have a 90,000 acre-feet capacity. The off-stream alternative appears to be the most feasible at this point, although both options will see further analysis.
Brandon Bainer of U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Grand Junction office and Hogan Peterson of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s Grand Junction office joined the tour. Board members of both conservation districts and the RBWCD, local irrigators, state and federal government agency representatives, YWG Roundtable members, Club 20, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Meeker Mayor Regas Halandras and Town Councilman Travis Day were among participants.