Is the proposed Wolf Creek dam another silt-laden boondoggle? As a local taxpayer and affected ranch owner, I have attended numerous meetings and heard the lengthy presentations by EIS, a lobbying firm, based in Denver and Grand Junction. Are they just one more absentee “consulting” firm? Taking hard-earned tax dollars for their own sustainability—with a narrow focus of building a dam? Could they care less about other, more critical components that are absolutely essential for community health, like the hospital and schools. This win-at-all costs mentality could ultimately cost us. Here is why:
Everyone is sensitive to debt. None of us want to leave our children and grandchildren with bills. So how would this proposal impact Rio Blanco pocketbooks? Estimates for the reservoir construction range from $120 to $190 million—or basically $63,000 per person x population 3,000 of Rangely, if it came in at budget. Which it won’t. Construction cost inflation is now running over 8% and projected to be higher with depleting supplies of labor and increasing tariffs (CPI, 2018).
And that’s just year one. On top of construction costs are annual operating costs. These are estimated at: $263,000 to $638,000 every year. Remember, Rangely just finished paying for the Kenney Reservoir, which the website states was “paid for exclusively by the district constituents via bonds. No outside funds, state or federal, were used with the construction of our project, 100% locally paid.”
Locally paid. For a project with a lifespan of less than 25 years.
But, while a project with a substantiated clear purpose might be logical, the State Division Water Engineer, critical to the approval of this project, questions its very purpose. How many of us are aware that the Division Engineer has written a detailed letter questioning the whole purpose of this reservoir?
The engineer’s letter notes that the oil and gas industry, who the bulk of the reservoir is for, already has water rights, and much more senior, and that the people of Rangely have adequate supplies (“the district has not shown that Rangely needs an additional supply of water…”) and there are many other far less costly (and less evaporative) means of providing needed water in the future than in a high dry desert basin.
From the State Engineer’s letter: “the Engineers are not convinced that the District has met its burden of proof that it can and will put the requested Wolf Creek Reservoirs claims of 90,000 AF of water to beneficial use within a reasonable period of time and that the requested water rights are not speculative.”
Six months later, the State Engineer’s questions have not been answered.
We must demand answers, too. The purpose of this project seems to change quarterly, and even the State Water Engineer remains unconvinced.
Now the question for our community must be: When it comes to taking on a massive debt, should we not consider taking the slower more cautious road?
It is important to remember that these dollars do not exist unless western Rio Blanco County residents go into debt (bonds) again for years to come, and incur a significant on-going operating expense. All for a project that according to the state engineer has an unsubstantiated purpose, while Rangely’s hospital and schools are clearly in need?
We must ensure the “Wolf” of debt does not end up at our door in Rio Blanco for years to come without a clear purpose and substantiated need. The people of Rangely have just finished paying off Kenney, are we ready to take on a new debt for a huge expensive project on a dry “creek” bed with a purpose that is being questioned by our state water engineer?