Progress made on plans for new dam within county lines

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RBC I For decades, residents of Rio Blanco County have heard rumors that a new dam is going in somewhere along the White River and soon there will be a new reservoir.

After many years of discussion, it seems that a new Rio Blanco County dam is now likely.
The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is moving forward with a feasibility study on a new county reservoir, including location and specifications as well as potential benefits.
The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District met Oct. 29, when they were presented with an update on the project by the two companies they have contracted with for the project: W.W. Wheeler and Associates and EIS Solutions. The update focused on scheduling, water rights and information from the feasibility report.
The stated purpose of the feasibility study has been to “provide reliable water storage to meet the following primary water needs that are expected to develop in western Rio Blanco County in the next 50 years: 1. Municipal and industrial needs in and around the Town of Rangely; 2. Water supply for the natural gas industry; 3. Water supply for the oil shale industry; and 4. Environmental water storage to maintain flows.”
RBWCD board member Peggy Rector reminded the board of the importance of water in the West, stating “water is the most valuable resource there is.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Brad McCloud, the environmental impact statement (EIS) project manager who said, “Water storage is economic development. This is the most economically impactful thing we can do in Rio Blanco County in the next 50 years.”
The board foresees many benefits to Rio Blanco citizens, including energy development, municipal and domestic use and increased recreation options as well as protection of endangered species, as the reservoir would be helpful with minimum water flows in the fall season.
In fact, the conservation district has been working with the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife to explore the benefits to local wildlife—aquatic and land based.
They also pointed to the potential financial benefits from a new reservoir. The district could see revenue from recreation, water supply clients such as the Town of Rangely, and hydroelectric power.
When the RBWCD started this journey, there were 23 possible locations. However, as of last week, the group has narrowed it down to two, both located in Wolf Creek, which is approximately 20 miles upriver from Kenney Reservoir. It has the potential of impacting three private property owners.
The board is proposing an off-channel and mainstream option to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). However, McCloud said it is highly unlikely that the COE would allow construction directly on the river as these types of dams are considered to have a much larger environmental impact.
Despite this knowledge, the board felt strongly that it is worth pursuing, as building directly on the river would save a substantial amount of money.
The more likely location for the off-channel Wolf Creek Reservoir has an expected dam height of 268 feet and an approximate potential surface area of 18,549 acres with a potential volume of 1,496,812 acre feet of water and a minimum depth of 50 feet.
The Wolf Creek locations were chosen primarily for cost, as both of the Wolf Creek locations would require a smaller dam than other options of similar reservoir size. They also had no identified geologic, habitat or wetland flaws and would provide recreation access for Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
In addition to the 23 possible locations the board also considered several improvements that could potentially be made to Kenney Reservoir instead of building a new dam.
Kenney Reservoir is currently experiencing a high rate of sedimentation with an accumulation of 315 acre feet per year. This has caused the reservoir to lose much of its size. At this rate. the RBWCD predicts that Kenney will only be able to provide effective water storage for another 15 years.
One option to counter this would be dredging the reservoir, however with a price tag of $700 million it was not considered a viable choice. The board also looked into enlarging Kenney Reservoir but ran into numerous permitting concerns, endangered fish impacts and was concerned about the inevitable future siltation of the enlarged area.
RBWCD Manager Dan Eddy said there have many challenges to get to this point in the process. He stated that there have been numerous “bureaucratic loops to jump through” and that the toughest part of the process thus far and moving forward has been permitting and financing.
Despite the challenges, Eddy is optimistic. When asked what the likelihood of getting a completed dam project, he responded that there was a “very good chance.”
Eddy and the other RBWCD board members feel it will all be worth it once the dam and lake are completed. The board plans to move quickly over the next two months to apply for the necessary water rights in order to make the project a reality.
At the current time, the board is not willing to go public with the potential cost of the project. However, members did say they are seeking grants and will be prepared to release that information soon.
They plan to have the final draft, which will include financial and cost information available to the public on Nov. 17, followed by a public meeting Dec. 2 at Colorado Northwest Community College. Public comments will be due to W.W. Wheeler and Associates Dec. 12.
While the new reservoir has already seen a huge push forward, the RBWCD still has many hurdles and hard work ahead in order to see a new lake and the numerous benefits it will bring to the local residents.