RBC I Phase 1 of the White River Storage Feasibility Study, released in mid-May, points to the development of a new water storage reservoir within the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD) within the next 10 to 12 years.
One of the priorities of any new dam is finding water rights to fill that dam, and it seems the RBWCD has access to quite a cache of water throughout the Yampa/White/Green (YWG) river basin. The second concern is the location.
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.
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.
The report states that the loss of this storage due to siltation 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.
The district has a serious water issue that must be addressed within its own district, the report states. Most of the land within district boundaries is owned by the BLM.
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.
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.
The summary states that the screening criteria included minimum storage, minimum recreational surface area, infrastructure impacts and preliminary environmental impacts.
The three currently proposed primary reservoir sites are off-channel reservoirs located at Wolf Creek, Spring Creek and Gilliam Draw.
Wolf Creek Reservoir, if built, would split the Rio Blanco County/Moffat County line a couple miles west of the center point between Meeker and Rangely and be just a short distance from the northern-most flow of the White River between Meeker and Rangely.
Spring Creek Reservoir, if built, would be located just south of Highway 64, just east of the current location of Taylor Draw Dam.
Gilliam Dam, if built, would be a couple miles south and east of Rangely.
Enlarging Taylor Draw Dam (Kenney Reservoir) was also assessed as a potential new water supply reservoir. Dredging had been assessed earlier by the RBWCD since the existing storage and recreation is being severely impacted by the situation. Based on an assessment by Dredge Pro in 2010, the conclusion was that “there is no economical way to do this project” and no identified location for storage of the silt.
Based on costs of the recent dredging of Strontia Springs Reservoir southwest of Denver, approximately 387 acre feet of silt was dredge in 2011 for approximately $30 million, an approximate cost of $77,520 per acre-foot dredged.
Kenney is silting at approximately 315 acre-feet per year, indicating that since 1985, approximately 9,450 acre-feet of water storage has been lost. Based on that information, dredging Kenny Reservoir to regain the original storage would cost more than $700 million.
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 possibly June 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 for 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.
The RBWCD conditional water rights include: 13,800 acre feet (adjudication date of Nov. 21, 1966); 13,800 acre feet (adjudication date of Dec. 31, 1982); and 620 cubic feet per second (cfs) (adjudication date of Nov. 21, 1966).
The Colorado River District also has some conditional water rights on the White River that include 75,957 acre feet (Strawberry Creek Reservoir, adjudication date of Dec. 31, 1973) and 29,374 acre feet (Wray Gulch Reservoir, adjudication date of Dec. 31, 1973).
In an initial meeting with representatives of the Colorado River District, the river district representatives indicate they would consider transferring these water rights to a new reservoir within the district if it appeared these water rights could be feasibly transferred.