The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy is preparing to begin Phase II of the White River storage project with the ultimate goal of obtaining a new reservoir on the White River.
The project began in 2014 with a water storage study. The study was determined necessary after the Conservancy determined that Rio Blanco was facing a water crisis. Approximately half of Kenney Reservoir’s original size has been silted in and it’s estimated that it loses 300 acre feet of water storage per year. The loss of Kenney significantly impacts recreation, endangered fish and potentially the Town of Rangely’s ability to store water. The district initially investigated improvements to Kenney but found that dredging would cost more than half a billion dollars and enlarging Taylor Draw had significant permitting issues. Because of these concerns the Conservancy District decided to move forward with the study of a new multipurpose reservoir. The functions of a new reservoir would include municipal and domestic water supply, environmental improvements, recreation, energy development and potentially irrigation and Colorado River Compact Storage.
Phase I of the project, which was completed in 2015, saw 23 initial reservoir sites identified at various locations along the White River. Estimating water demand in 2065, the District was able to narrow it down to two possible sizes, a 20,000 or 90,000-acre foot reservoir. After comparing construction, implementation and storage costs the location was also narrowed down to the Wolf Creek Drainage, which is located 17 miles East of Rangely, near Yellow Creek. The total project cost of the 20,000-acre foot option is estimated at $71.1 million and the 90,000-acre foot option at $127.7 million. However, when a storage cost per acre foot comparison is made the larger reservoir appears economical, with the 20,000-acre foot costing $3,560 and the 90,000-acre foot costing $1,420 per acre foot.
In addition to size options Wolf Creek comes with two potential locations, a traditional dam built directly on the White River or an off channel diversion project which would require the water to be piped and pumped to a nearby location. The on river dam option offers a smaller dam footprint, hydroelectric options and the possibility of extending the life of Kenney Reservoir by preventing more sedimentation. This option will require greater infrastructure relocations as well as have a larger impact on private and agricultural lands.
While the off channel diversion would certainly have higher construction costs than building on river, there are benefits to be considered. The off channel diversion would receive less sedimentation, leaving it more protected from the problems Kenney has experienced. It would also require little to no need for infrastructure relocations such as power lines or pipelines along with a minimal impact to private lands and personal property. Additionally, there are significant enlargement capabilities. However, the off channel option also provides limited opportunities for hydroelectric power. The conservancy has already filed for water rights on both options.
Phase I also looked at the potential tax revenue provided by a new reservoir, with recreation playing a large role. It is estimated that the Wolf Creek site could create a total annual tax revenue of $1.1- $1.4 million.
Phase II, which will begin when all funding mechanism are firmly in place, will include more stakeholder and public outreach, preferred alternative refinement, preliminary sedimentation studies and hydraulic modeling. In addition, this phase will include development of minimum stream flows for the endangered fisheries program and research into the possibility of another hydroelectric plant. Phase II is estimated to cost $350,000. The funding comes from a variety of stakeholders including $85,000 from the Yampa/White Green Roundtable, $75,000 form the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, $50,000 from the Town of Rangely, $10,000 from the Town of Meeker and $25,000 from Rio Blanco County. There is also a $82,888 grant request in to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
In their most recent meeting the Rio Blanco Board of County Commissioners agreed to additional funding to help fill the $22,000 gap with the understanding that the Conservation District would request the Towns of Meeker and Rangely to share the burden.
The $75,000 contribution from the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is a sizeable amount of money for the district, as it equates to 45 percent of their tax revenue.
The goal is to have Phase II completed by 2018 so that the lengthy permitting process can begin.
The entire project boasts an aggressive schedule with the goal of final completion in 2024. This timeline is considered rapid because the last completed dam project in Colorado took 18 years. It is also not unusual for the permitting process to last decades.