Phase 1 of feasibility study looks at new reservoir along river in county
The RBWCD encompasses the lower White River Basin in western Rio Blanco County. The district owns and operates the Taylor Hydroelectric Project, a run-of-the-river project that provides 2 megawatts of hydropower and flat water recreation on Kenney Reservoir.
The 50-page study was prepared for the RBWCD by W.W. Wheeler and Associates, Inc., a water resource engineering company in Englewood, Colorado.
Phase 1 of the feasibility study was funded with 10 percent funding from the RBWCD, 45 percent of the funds from the Y/W/G (Yampa/White/Green rivers) Basin Roundtable account and 45 percent from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) WSRA grant program.
The district has average annual revenues from hydropower and mill levies of approximately $700,000. Taylor Draw Dam can also provide municipal water supply for the Town of Rangely, located about six miles downstream of the dam.
The RBWCD is reportedly suffering a serious water crisis because Kenney Reservoir, which originally provided 13,800 acre feet of storage, is silting in at an average rate of more than 300 acre feet per year.
The report states that the loss of this storage is reducing the recreation use in the reservoir and the ability to provide long-term municipal and industrial (M&I) water storage for the Town of Rangely.
According to the executive summary of the study, Phase 1 work included more than 30 initial meetings with potential project stakeholders, an update of projected water demands in the district, development of an initial project purpose and needs statement, a map study of 24 potential reservoir sites and coarse screening evaluations to identify primary reservoir sites that would be suitable for initial “engineering feasibility design and on-site environmental evaluations” in Phase 2 of the study.
Harvey Economics identified the need for future water storage in western Rio Blanco County for recreation, M&I water supply, energy development and in-stream flows that could range from 20,000 to 90,000 acre-feet of storage by 2065.
Wheeler identified 24 potential sites near the White River and facilitated monthly public workshops to screen the sites down to three primary reservoir sited.
The executive summary states that the screening criteria included minimum storage, minimum recreational surface area, infrastructure impacts and preliminary environmental impacts.
The three primary reservoir sites are off-channel reservoirs located at Wolf Creek, Spring Creek and Gilliam Draw.
The study and the initial stakeholder involvement process were managed by EIS Solutions. The feasibility study was scoped to be consistent with the alternatives analysis process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because any new water storage reservoir will likely require a special-use permit (SUP) from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land management (BLM).
The vast majority of land in Rio Blanco County is owned by the BLM, and approval of a new reservoir will likely require extensive NEPA documentation, the report’s executive summary states.
The feasibility study scope included Phase 1 course screening and Phase 2 fine screening evaluations.
The RBWCD obtained grants from the Yampa/White/Green (rivers) Basin Water Roundtable (Y/W/G Roundtable) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) for the first phase of the study.
Per the request of the Y/W/G Roundtable, the Phase 1 report was prepared to summarize the Phase 1 course screening evaluations.
A Bit of History
In the early 1980s, the RBWCD designed, constructed, permitted and funded the Taylor Draw Dam Hydroelectric Project, also known as Kenney Reservoir, the study states. Taylor Draw Dam provides hydropower and recreation and was permitted to provide water supply to the Town of Rangely.
Kenney Reservoir is located on the main stem of the White River upstream of Rangely. The original two-mile-long reservoir is now reduced to about one mile of open water and another mile of very diverse wetlands in the original upstream mile length of the reservoir. The loss of reservoir storage has significantly reduced recreation use at Kenny and the ability of the reservoir to provide any future water supply to the Town of Rangely.
The district has a serious water issue that must be addressed within its own district. Most of the land within district boundaries is owned by the BLM.
The planning, permitting, financing, design and construction of a new supply reservoir can take 10 years or longer, and the RBWCD realizes it must begin an aggressive planning process consistent with NEPA documentation that will be required.
Based on a meeting with representatives from the BLM White River Field Office and the district on April 16 of this year, the NEPA documentation for a new storage reservoir on the White River will likely require extensive documentation as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because, as a minimum, there will likely be significant impacts to endangered fish in the White River and Colorado downstream of the reservoir and because of the extensive impact the reservoir is expected to have on BLM lands.
The RBWCD authorized Wheeler to begin scoping the feasibility study on Sept. 3, 2013. Wheeler and EIS Solutions were authorized by the district to immediately begin Phase 2 of the feasibility study on March 26, 2014, even though the Phase 2 study grants from the Y/W/G Roundtable and CWCB could not be approved until May or later.
Coupled with the Phase 1 work was an extensive series of initial stakeholder meetings with key potential project stakeholders to begin to identify key issues that could be a challenge to successfully implementing new water storage in the district, the study states, adding that a secondary purpose of the initial stakeholder meetings was to begin to develop broad-based support for the project.
Phase 2 is intended to develop feasibility-level engineering designs for the primary reservoir sites that resulted from Phase 1 of the study.
During Phase 2, preliminary field site visits of the primary reservoir sites will be conducted to identify potential environmental or other key constraints that could affect the ability to obtain construction permits fro the proposed primary reservoirs.
Phase 2 will also include the preparation of a financing plan for the project and preparation of a feasibility study report that summarizes the Phase 1 and Phase 2 study phases. Continued stakeholder meetings with existing and newly identified stakeholders will be included in Phase 2 of the study.
The majority of the larger senior water rights on the White River are located upstream of Meeker. Downstream of Meeker, the study states, the White River operates under free-river conditions during most of the year. As a result, the RBWCD is expected to file for 2014 water rights for the selected primary reservoirs after completion of Phase 2 of the feasibility.
The district also has conditional water rights associated with Taylor Draw Dam that could be transferred to the preferred reservoir site with minimal impacts expected to other water users.