Water distict’s mission is a tough balancing act

MEEKER I Pursuing water rights and looking out for users’ interests at the same time can be a bit of a balancing act.
But that’s exactly what the Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District is charged to do. The group’s mission is to “maintain and manage its water rights for the benefit of agricultural, municipal, industrial, wildlife and recreational users within the district,” said attorney Trina Zagar-Brown.
At Saturday’s meeting between the Yellow Jacket Board of Directors and local landowners, various user interests were brought up.
“My goal was to publicly state my concerns about wildlife impacts,” said landowner Jeanne Horne. “While I own property on the White River, also own property adjacent to Morapos Creek, and have other real estate interests up-river adjacent to the Welder property, my primary concerns are wildlife-related issues.
“I feel there are others far better qualified to take issue with ag and industry uses — not to say they are not a concern to me — as I stated (at the meeting), they are of great concern. I just feel those who make their living with ag and industry have those concerns in the forefront.”
Agricultural interests are well represented on the Yellow Jacket board, with several of the directors being cattlemen.
But the user category that received the most attention — and most landowner concern — Saturday was industrial.
“How come energy seems to be the primary focus?” outfitter Shawn Welder asked.
“From my perspective, if energy water rights are not part of the mix, they will dry up the other uses,” Yellow Jacket attorney Zagar-Brown said. “… energy water has to be addressed, but it has to be managed with the other uses, and Yellow Jacket is looking out for those other interests.”
The possibility of large-scale commercial oil shale production in the area — and the accompanying demands for water — has been an ongoing subject of public speculation for years.
But natural gas extraction already has a big impact on water usage in the Yellow Jacket District, Zagar-Brown said.
“Oil shale has been pregnant for decades and we don’t know when that baby is going to pop out, but it is real,” Zagar-Brown said. “The (Yellow Jacket) water rights have long been contemplated to assist in providing water for potential oil shale development. By most accounts, the development of oil shale will require significant amounts of water and Yellow Jacket has historically viewed that it would play a critical role in water supplies for the oil shale.
“The current realities are that the development of natural gas also requires significant water resources. Maybe most important is that the development of natural resources takes water away from its other uses, such as agricultural,” Zagar-Brown said. “So Yellow Jacket’s role going forward may be to manage water storage projects that help off set the heavy water demands associated with natural resource extraction, whether it be oil shale or natural gas.”