Wolf Creek Dam update

RBC | The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is continuing with its White River water storage project, typically referred to as the Wolf Creek Reservoir. During Tuesday’s Community Networking meeting District Director Alden Vanden Brink said they are getting close to providing, “water security and assurance to the White River.” 


The project began in 2012 when Vanden Brink began raising concerns about future municipal and industrial water needs. According to Vanden Brink, in 2002 the town of Rangely had to push the water level of the White River up or the municipal water intake was in danger of running dry. He said during low seasons the river has dropped to as little as 50 cubic feet per second. Vanden Brink also cited the needs of endangered fish which suffer when water levels are low.
The Yampa/White/Green Basin group recently completed a White River model which included a 90,000-acre foot reservoir at Wolf Creek and found that creating the new reservoir would help meet future municipal and industrial demands which, according to the modeling, will otherwise experience some shortages. “No action is not an option” said project manager Brad McCloud.
Kenney Reservoir, which sits just east of Rangely, has experienced severe sedimentation and is expected to only provide storage for approximately 10 more years. Early in the project, dredging Kenney was explored but was deemed unfeasible due to high costs and permitting issues related to the nearby wetlands.


The district is still deciding between two locations for the reservoir; between Meeker and Rangely on the White River itself or up Wolf Creek. While the primary goal of the reservoir is water storage the district noted that to be useful for recreation they would need a surface area of 700 acres and depth of 50 feet.
Placing the dam directly on the river will come with a lower annual operating expense and greater potential for hydropower. However, it’s also more likely to impact private landowners and Highway 64.
Building the dam at Wolf Creek will require filling, either through a pump station or gravity fill canal and would primarily impact BLM lands. Because the White River is fairly flat, a canal system would have to be approximately 36 miles long, beginning near Rio Blanco Lake, while a pump station would require approximately half of a mile of pipeline to meet the 170 ft. elevation difference. Because of this the pump station is considered the most economical option, despite its need for electricity. The Wolf Creek option also has an additional “insurance pool” of 22,000-acre feet of water to act as a backup, should the pumps or canal fail.
The district is expected to make its final location decision in the coming days, however it was stated that the Wolf Creek location and pump fill station were the preferred choice.


The conservation district is considering transferring existing water rights for Taylor Draw Dam at Kenney Reservoir to the new site. They began the process of applying for rights in 2014.
Terra Carta Energy Resources LLC filed an application for water rights at the same site on the river and is not working in coordination with the water district.


Depending on which dam site, size and fill method the district choses to pursue the cost of the project may range from $119-$360 million. The stated preferred reservoir, Wolf Creek with a pump fill station, carries a $119 million price tag for the 20,000-acre foot reservoir and a $191 million price for 90,000-acre feet. The total price breaks down to $1,500- $2,900 per acre foot of storage, which according to the presentation, is considered very economical, with dams on the Front Range typically costing $20,000-$25,000 per acre foot.
Potential funding sources include a variety of federal grants, the Colorado River District, local municipalities including the county and towns, and a mill levy and/or bond initiative.


After making the final location and size decision the district plans to initiate the federal permitting process by the end of next year. Permits will be needed from the BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, State Historic Preservation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Rio Blanco County and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Historically, permitting can take up to 20 years but they are hoping for a “lean” process with parallel decision making between agencies.
Plans for agricultural water needs, hydropower options and Colorado River Compact implications still need to be studied.