RBC | BLM White River Field Office Manager Kent Walter hosted a work session with the Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners, et al. on May 30 to discuss the Coal Ridge boundary map of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project. Rio Blanco County Commissioners Gary Moyer and Si Woodruff were present along with the county’s water conservancy district and natural resource specialist Lanny Massey. Assisting with the BLM’s presentation of the updated boundary map and associated data was Heather Sauls, BLM planning and environmental coordinator. Representatives from the engineering firm EIS Solutions were also present.
The discussion was primarily focused on an attempt to find an agreeable solution to designate a portion of the Coal Ridge area as off limits to motorized vehicles. As presented previously, this restricted area would include a large portion of the shoreline of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir.
“This lake is going to be a really big deal economically for Rio Blanco County. We’re looking for a guaranteed buffer area along the shore for recreational purposes. This would include motorized vehicle access,” Commissioner Moyer said.
After extensive discussion, an agreement was reached on a proposed border of the restricted area, guaranteeing a minimum of a quarter mile buffer around the proposed reservoir shoreline. It was agreed that a new plan will not preclude or restrict any Rio Blanco County projects around the reservoir perimeter and would grant engineers and construction equipment full access to the dam sites.
Ed Quillen used to say that oil shale had been the, “Next big thing for 100 years.”
Here’s the release from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (Ray Bloxham) via Earth Justice:
Conservation groups today sued the Trump administration to challenge what would be the nation’s first commercial-scale oil shale mine and processing facility. The lawsuit says officials failed to protect several endangered species when they approved rights-of-way across public lands to provide utilities to the proposed oil shale development.
The massive Enefit project in northeast Utah’s Uintah Basin would also drain billions of gallons of water from the Green River, generate enormous amounts of greenhouse gas pollution and exacerbate the Uintah Basin’s often-dismal air quality.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Utah, argues that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the law by ignoring the potential harm to endangered fish. In its biological opinion, the agency considered only the harm from water depletions necessary to build the pipeline, not the billions of gallons of Green River water that will be sent through the pipeline to Enefit’s oil shale development.
“The responsible federal agencies have worn blinders in approving this project, leaving themselves and the public in the dark about the immense ecological harm it would cause,” said Alex Hardee, attorney at Earthjustice. “We’re going to court to uphold the nation’s environmental laws and save the Upper Colorado River Basin from the devastating effects of oil shale.”
The Bureau of Land Management also violated the law by failing to adequately analyze the significant environmental impacts of the proposed oil shale development, which likely would not occur but for the agency’s approval of the rights-of-way.
“This is a prescription for disaster for our climate, wildlife, and the Colorado River Basin,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Draining the Green River to mine one of the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet sends us in exactly the wrong direction. It’s putting us on a collision course with climate catastrophe so a foreign fossil-fuel company can make big bucks.”
The Trump administration paved the way for the project last year by approving rights-of-way for electricity, oil, gas, and water lines across public lands. At full buildout, the Estonian-owned Enefit American Oil facility would produce 50,000 barrels of oil every day for the next 30 years or more from the Green River Formation.
“The environmental destruction, air pollution and water pollution inherent in this proposed oil shale mining project is something that every citizen of Utah should be alarmed about,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president and founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “That it would become a long-term public health disaster is being callously dismissed by a BLM that is being run as a subsidiary of the dirty energy industry.”
Huge amounts of water are required in the oil shale production process. The water pipeline will allow Enefit to drain more than 10,000 acre feet annually from the Green River, harming critical habitat for endangered fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. The project comes as Western states struggle with record droughts and climate-driven declines in river flows in the Colorado River Basin.
“Our region is already feeling the effects of pollution and climate change. To destroy our public lands in order to drill for more polluting fossil fuels would be a disaster for our communities and our planet,” said Dan Mayhew, conservation chair of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We should be accelerating the transition to clean energy, not sacrificing our water, air quality, and climate for an investment in one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world. Today we continue the fight to ensure that federal agencies can’t continue to approve dangerous, dirty energy projects without fully considering the totality of environmental damage that would result.”
Enefit intends to strip-mine about 28 million tons of rock a year over thousands of acres of high-desert habitat, generating hundreds of millions of tons of waste rock. It will also construct a half-square-mile processing plant, about 45 miles south of Dinosaur National Monument, to bake the rock at extremely high temperatures to turn pre-petroleum oil shale rock into refinery-ready synthetic crude oil. That will require vast amounts of energy and emit huge amounts of ozone precursors in an area recently listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as not in attainment with healthy ozone standards.
Oil shale is one of world’s most carbon-polluting fuels, with lifecycle carbon emissions up to 75 percent higher than those of conventional fuels.
“BLM’s approach here is to ignore the elephant in the room, which never ends well,” said Ann Alexander, senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’ve focused exclusively on the relatively small impact of building some power lines and pipes, hoping no one will notice that this infrastructure will facilitate large-scale environmental destruction. Well, we noticed.”
The project would produce 547 million barrels of oil over three decades, spewing more than 200 million tons of greenhouse gas — as much as 50 coal-fired power plants produce in a year. Those emissions would contribute to global warming and regional drought already afflicting the rivers and their endangered fish.
“Enefit’s proposed oil shale operation could deplete more than 100 billion gallons over three decades,” said Sarah Stock, program director at Living Rivers. “That’s water taken away from other current water users and the downstream river ecosystem. The BLM needs to stop side-stepping their responsibilities by ignoring the devastating impacts that oil shale development will have on the climate and downstream water availability in the Colorado River Basin.”
“As a result of mismanagement, drought, and accelerating climate change, the Colorado River system is on the verge of collapse,” said Daniel E. Estrin, advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Yet despite this crisis, BLM and FWS have approved rights-of-way across public lands for a project that could remove 100 billion gallons of water from the basin, push several endangered species closer to extinction, and rapidly degrade the water supply of almost 40 million people. These approvals, that will allow an Estonian hard rock oil shale company to exploit US public lands and resources, must be reversed.”
“The BLM approved the rights-of-way to service Enefit’s proposed oil shale mine and processing facility based on an utterly inadequate analysis of potentially devastating air, water, climate and species impacts,” said Michael Toll, a staff attorney at Grand Canyon Trust. “Considering the rights-of-way are a public subsidy of an otherwise economically unfeasible oil shale development, the public has a right to know exactly how Enefit’s project will impact their health and environment.”
The groups filing today’s lawsuit are Living Rivers/Colorado RiverKeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Waterkeeper. The groups are represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust and the Center for Biological Diversity.
From the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:
The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD) is as busy as ever with many projects in the works that affect residents on both ends of Rio Blanco County. District Manager Alden Vanden Brink explained that the board is in the pre-permitting process for the White River Storage Project.
“They are getting organized enough so that they can go into permitting. Their goal is to be in the permitting process at this time next year in 2020,” Vanden Brink said.
According to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy’s website, the Northwest Colorado Water and Storage Project, also known as “Wolf Creek” has been in water resource planners’ sights since the 1940s when it was first proposed. Since then it seems every 10 years or so interest in the project is renewed and a feasibility study is completed. After reviewing all the pieces involved in reservoir construction the Wolf Creek project appears to make perfect sense for a White River reservoir. This is due, in part, to the potential for a significant portion of water to be stored off of the main channel, even with the main-stem White River dam. The geology of Wolf Creek and the surrounding area allows the inundation areas for the main-stem versus off-channel dam to be very similar. The Wolf Creek area also has the advantage of having all necessary raw materials available on site for the construction of the dam.
Estimates of the reservoir’s potential capacity are still in the development stages, but all indications point to a minimum reservoir capacity of 20,000–30,0000 acre-feet (AF) to 90,000 AF of storage with a maximum build capacity of stored water up to 1.2 million AF.
This is the only basin or main tributary to the Colorado River in the state that does not currently have drought resiliency. This project is a response to a developing water crisis for the lower White River including the Town of Rangely. No private lands will be inundated by this project as the location sits on federal, state and private land. That private land belongs to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.
Not only will this project help the water storage crisis on the White River, Vanden Brink asserts “the local and regional economy will be enormously impacted and stimulated by the construction of this project.” The public can look forward to updates on the project as they develop.
The popular annual Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Fishing Derby is set for June 1-2 this year. This event coincides with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s free fishing weekend. The conservancy district offers free camping at Kenney Reservoir that begins Friday, May 31 and is honored on a first-come, first-serve basis. The weekend is also a free boating weekend a the reservoir.
“The Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce will be executing a Visit Rangely promotion during this time as well,” Vanden Brink said.
The White River Management Plan is a plan being developed for the endangered species within the White River. The lower White River system, which includes Kenney Reservoir, is a unique Colorado fishery. The Colorado Pike Minnow and the Razorback Sucker are the two endangered species that this plan is targeting for aid. The White River Management Plan puts the state in compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The RBWCD is a cooperating agency along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Colorado, the Colorado Water Users Association, The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, and the Nature Conservancy. Vanden Brink said “his board has been very active with this plan” to ensure that it gets completed.”
The investigation into the problematic algae bloom in the White River is ongoing. A group of concerned citizens and agencies have convened to address the excessive amount of algae in the White River from the headwaters to the Utah state line. The Technical Advisory Group includes the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Rio Blanco County, Town of Meeker, Town of Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, White River Conservation District, Douglas Creek Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Trout Unlimited.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in 2016 the visible filamentous alga was identified as Cladophora glomerata. All water users on the White River are impacted by this algae growth. It has especially caused intake problems for water users such as The Town of Rangely as well as private land owners. The RBWCD financially contributes to this investigation which hired the U.S. Geological Survey last year to conduct the water quality and stream morphology investigation. Vanden Brink reports that the RBWCD had success in 2018 flushing water out of the dam into the lower White River which helped to alleviate some of the algae problems in that area. They intend to use that method again in 2019 but likely earlier in the year.
Taylor Draw Dam was constructed in 1983 to create Kenney Reservoir. One hundred percent of the dam was funded by the taxpayers of western Rio Blanco County, including the Town of Rangely. In 1993 a 2-megawatt hydroelectric generator was added. The generator is capable of variable power output matching the flows of the White River. At full power production capacity, the hydroelectric facility provides up to 30 percent of renewable energy for Rangely. The energy created goes immediately onto the energy grid.
The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District will meet again on Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m.
A view looking downstream of the White River in the approximate location of the potential White River dam and reservoir. The right edge of the dam, looking downstream, would be against the brown hillside to the right of the photo. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith
A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District has been using state funds, and their own, to study two dam options for this area between Meeker and Rangely on the White River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith
The White River, in the vicinity of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.
From the White River Algae Technical Advisory Group via The Rio Blanco Herald Times:
Members of the White River Algae Technical Advisory Group (TAG), met Feb. 13 to discuss the 2019 plans to ascertain what is driving the algae growth in the White River to improve the overall health of the watershed. Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts facilitated the meeting.
USGS provided a review of 2018 studies and planned 2019 activities. Ken Leib, Western Colorado Office Chief, stated their goal is to document and understand benthic algal occurrence, characteristics and controls at multiple locations within the White River (WR) study area and described the study design and approach. Cory Williams, Western Colorado Studies Chief, reviewed the historical analysis, water quality trends, algae sampling and isotope sampling. Key takeaways are as follows. Historical streamflow analysis showed a decreasing trend in flow patterns since 1900 while available high-resolution water temperature data indicates increasing daily mean temperatures during May-September between two more recent time periods (1979-84 and 2007-17). Little to no change has been shown in the mean, annual concentration of kjeldahl nitrogen while total phosphorous showed a substantial increase in concentration and flux between 1999 and 2017. Concentrations in phosphorous increased during snowmelt-runoff (high flow) and decrease during fall and winter months. Several types of algae were present at each study site and Cladophora was found at all 19 USGS study sites. Water samples were collected and analyzed for nitrate concentrations at six locations but, concentrations were too low for isotope analysis. Isotopic analysis is an aspect of the study intended to aid in identification of sources of nitrate in the watershed. Sampling and nitrate analysis are ongoing and USGS is exploring alternative sampling approaches to meet target concentration ranges. Historical analysis and literature review, physical and chemical characterization/data collection, algae sampling and isotope sampling will all be continued in 2019.
Tyler Adams, project manager, and Susan Nall, section supervisor, with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) reviewed permitted activity in the recent past. They described their regulatory authorities and explained how to know when a project is regulated and when it may qualify for exemptions. Available permits vary from Nation Wide Permits (NWP) to Regional General Permits (RGP) to Individual Permits (IP). Permitting history in the Upper White River total 53 permits (NWPs=38, RGPs=14, IP=1), about 866,939 acres, from 2008-2018.
Matt Weaver, 5 Rivers Inc. gave a presentation on a local project proposal that is currently in the application process with the ACE. The proposal is to enhance fish habitat in the White River. The plan is to create 18 pools in which Weaver will remove material from the pool area and add it to the bank to leave everything functioning as a pool-bar sequence. Weaver and the landowners are communicating with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife to avoid disrupting crucial times such as spawning season, etc. One USGS study site is encompassed in the project area. The landowners/managers are willing to work with the TAG and USGS to do their best not to affect the ongoing study.
Several discussion items were identified at the last TAG meeting as potential changes to the USGS 2019 Scope of Work (SOW). Items such as monitoring growth of the algae using pictures, isotopic analysis, water temperature monitoring, taxonomy, capturing the impacts of stream structure changes, water clarity (turbidity) and quantitative mapping were reviewed to make decisions on how the TAG would like to move forward.
After this discussion, the TAG reached a consensus that the White River Conservation District should move forward with the original agreement with USGS to continue the 2019 SOW for the White River Algae project. That SOW includes the workplan elements: Scouring flows and analysis and Pre, peak-, post-algae and water quality sampling events.
FromThe Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):
Snowpack in the Yampa and White river basins is at 110 percent of its long-term median snow water equivalency, which is a measure of how much water is contained within the snowpack. Snowpack typically peaks in April, so snowfall — or lack of it — could still force that number away from the median.
… the city of Steamboat Springs has enough water to provide for current demands for a decade under 2012 conditions — the third worst drought episode in Colorado’s history — according to city water resources manager Kelly Romero-Heaney. Romero-Heaney said this would be a “doomsday scenario.”
“I don’t know if there are many communities in Colorado that can say that,” she said in an update to the Steamboat Springs City Council on Jan. 15.
One of the ways managers seek to minimize the risk of a compact call is demand management, she said. This is a spot where Steamboat has hit beyond the mark. In 2011, the city’s water conservation plan sought to reduce water consumption by 5 percent, said Michelle Carr, city water and sewer distribution and collection manager. The city exceeded this goal, and as Steamboat’s population has grown, it’s demand for water has fallen, she explained.
Click here to go to the website to RSVP and read the agenda.
From the White River Water Conservation District via The Craig Daily Press:
The public is invited to attend the Water Expo and White River Conservation District Annual Meeting to hear and engage in discussions with speakers about the Colorado River Water Compact, Prior Appropriations Doctrine, Demand Management, Protecting your Water Rights, and Integrated Water Management Plans.
The Expo is set for Thursday, Jan. 17, in Meeker and is hosted by the White River Conservation District, Colorado Ag Water Alliance, and Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District
Speakers include Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller, Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section Chief Brent Newman, Division 5 Water Referee Susan Ryan, and several water rights attorneys, who will discuss these topics with Rio Blanco citizens.
See the full agenda at the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts’ website, http://whiterivercd.com. Registration is at 9:30 a.m., and the expo is expected to wrap up by 4 p.m. Lunch will be provided by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance with an RSVP.
To RSVP or for more information, contact the Conservation District Office at 970-878-9838 or email@example.com.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board has given $843,338 to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District since 2013 to study a potential dam on the White River, yet officials at the Colorado Division of Water Resources say the project appears “speculative” and Rio Blanco lacks evidence for its claims for municipal, irrigation, energy and environmental uses.
On Nov. 14, the CWCB directors approved the most recent grant application from Rio Blanco for $350,000 to keep studying the proposed White River dam and reservoir project near Rangely.
But while the CWCB is spending more state money to help prepare the White River project for federal approval, another state agency, the Division of Water Resources, is asking hard questions about the project in water court.
“There are concerns whether the district can show that it can and will put the requested water rights to beneficial use within a reasonable period of time and that the requested water rights are not speculative,” wrote Erin Light, the division engineer in Division 6, who oversees the White and Yampa river basins, and Tracy Kosloff, the assistant state engineer in Denver, in a report filed in water court Oct. 4.
In addition to pursuing a series of grants from CWCB, Rio Blanco applied in water court in 2014 for a new water right to store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the White River.
The two engineers in the Division of Water Resources filed their report after consulting with the state attorney general’s office. Review of water rights applications by division engineers is routine, but the report filed by the division engineer and assistant state engineer raised a higher level of concerns than normal.
Also known as the Wolf Creek project, it could store anywhere from 44,000 to 2.92 million acre-feet of water, according to the array of proposals, presentations and applications that have been made public over the project’s ongoing evolution. (Please see: Timeline: tracking the proposed White River dam and reservoir).
The water would be stored either in a reservoir formed by a dam across the main stem of the White River, or in an off-channel reservoir at the bottom of the Wolf Creek gulch.
The latest grant from the CWCB to Rio Blanco was to “finalize the preferred reservoir size and firm-up financial commitments of key project partners so that applications for federal permits can be filed,” according to a CWCB staff memo on the grant.
Asked about the apparent conflict between CWCB and DWR on the White River project, CWCB Director Becky Mitchell said she was aware of the concerns voiced by the division and state engineers and was confident that the next phase of study supported by CWCB would help answer some of the questions raised.
“All of the grants given to Rio Blanco thus far have been all about feasibility, so we are not necessarily in disagreement with DWR, but it needs to trued up,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “There may be concerns with what DWR is stating and the grant will help us evaluate those concerns.”
In another sign of CWCB’s support for the potential project, the agency’s finance section has added a potential $100 million loan to Rio Blanco on a list of potential loans it compiles and publishes as part of the CWCB director’s reports to the agency’s directors.
Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions in Grand Junction is serving as Rio Blanco’s project manager for the White River project.
When asked Tuesday about the contradictory messages sent by the two state agencies, McCloud said, “I think one side is working on one end and the other is doing the other and it’s a good check and balance and the way the system is supposed to work. And there are probably things that will get worked out along the way.”
In their report filed in water court, the state’s water engineers challenge Rio Blanco oft-stated claim it is seeking the new storage facility at Wolf Creek in order to meet the future water needs of the Town of Rangely, which today takes its water directly from the White River.
“While every case is different and may require evidence tailored to the particular facts of the case, the engineers have not received sufficient evidence to support the district’s claimed water demands for Rangely nor evidence that Rangely intends to rely on water storage in one of the Wolf Creek Reservoirs to meet its demand,” the report from Kosloff and Light says.
The engineers’ report also questions the demand for water in the potential new reservoir from the energy sector.
They said Rio Blanco should, at a minimum, show how much of the 45,800 acre-feet of industrial demand it is claiming is located within the district’s boundaries.
They also say Rio Blanco should make public how much of the demand from the energy sector within the district’s boundaries can be satisfied by the existing water rights of the district.
In addition to challenging Rio Blanco’s claims for municipal and industrial use of water in their 2018 report, Light and Kosloff also question Rio Blanco’s claims for irrigation and environmental uses.
They said a storage report prepared for the project “notes that irrigated acreage and irrigation water demand is projected to decrease in the future” in the area downstream of the reservoir.
And the engineers said they “do not believe that a water right for irrigation use should be awarded in this case.”
And the engineers question Rio Blanco claim that it will release up to 42,000 acre-feet of water from its proposed reservoir to the benefit of endangered fish downstream on the White and Green rivers.
They say an ongoing study has yet to make clear how much water is needed for the endangered fish.
“Long story short, it is still unclear what flows should be used when determining if or how much water needs to be stored to assist with meeting the recommended flows,” the report says. “Until these numbers are known, claiming any quantity of water for these uses is speculative.”
Size in flux
The White River project has a wide range of potential uses, according to Rio Blanco, and it also has a wide range of potential sizes, as various presentations and applications have included potential sizes from 44,000 acre-feet to 90,000 acre-feet to 400,000 acre-feet to 2.92 million acre-feet.
Alden Vanden Brink, the manager of the Rio Blanco district, told the CWCB directors Nov. 14 that his district is not seeking to build a 400,000 acre-foot reservoir, despite the reference in Rio Blanco’s grant application to study a reservoir between 44,000 acre-feet and 400,000 acre-feet.
“The 400,000 is maximum size,” Vanden Brink said. “That is not what the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is looking to build. It’s going to take somebody from a way outside source to come to the table for that.”
Vanden Brink said the district was seeking to store “anywhere from 44,000 to about 130,000” acre-feet of water.
However, the grant application from Rio Blanco notes that a 400,000 acre-foot reservoir might have some benefit to the state.
“If the higher end of the storage is implemented, the project has tremendous potential to help the majority of the state of Colorado address Colorado River Compact administration issues,” the grant said.
An earlier study on the dam by W.W. Wheeler and Associates for the Rio Blanco district found it was possible to build a dam on the White River at Wolf Creek that would hold 2.92 million acre-feet of water.
The latest grant application to CWCB from the Rio Blanco district says “the preferred reservoir size will be developed based on the amount of water needed and committed to by key project stakeholders.”
Wade Cox, the president of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, discussed the project in October with the board of the Colorado River District, and referenced the varying potential sizes of the reservoir.
“There is never going to be enough water,” Cox said. “I don’t care how big you build it. Whatever you do, it’s never going to be enough. Somebody somewhere is going to utilize it.”