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The Wolf Creek Dam: Is the State of Colorado speculating in water rights?

For Immediate Release
April 16, 2018
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado, 970-218-8310

Is the State of Colorado speculating in water rights for a Wolf Creek Dam?

Colorado River, USA: Today, Save The Colorado is asking if the State of Colorado is speculating in water rights with its proposal for the “Wolf Creek Dam” on a tributary of the White River in Western Colorado. Recent news articles and presentations at the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District indicate that the District, which has been supported by funding from the State of Colorado’s Water Conservation Board, is proposing a “Wolf Creek Dam” partly for the intention to “prevent the abandonment of pre-1922 Colorado River Compact water rights.” Further, in the news article from the Rio Blanco Herald Times April 14, 2018, it is stated that the proposed massive dam and reservoir would be built in part for “protecting the [White] river from Colorado River Compact curtailment”.

“The idea of building a massive dam and reservoir simply to protect a perceived water right may not comply with Colorado’s ‘beneficial use’ laws,” said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado. “This proposal smells like it’s trying to simply keep water from flowing downstream, thereby draining the river system, which is already extremely degraded and imperiled both politically and ecologically.”

The proposed White River Storage Project has been discussed for decades, with the most recent idea of putting a massive new dam on the Wolf Creek tributary of the White River. The news article states that the reservoir could be up 260 feet deep holding 1.2 million acre feet of water. The proposal includes pumping water from the White River up into the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir. (Map at left, source BLM.)

The geographic area where the Wolf Creek Dam is proposed is currently served water by Kenney Reservoir near Rangely, Colorado, but that reservoir, even though its only 34 years old, is predicted to fill with sediment in the next 15 years making it practically useless as a water supply source. The Rio Blanco Water District, funded by the State, is proposing to essentially abandon Kenney Reservoir and let it fill with sediment and continue to block the White River, rather than investing resources in rejuvenating and dredging the reservoir.

“It’s ridiculous to abandon one reservoir and build a whole new dam and reservoir,” said Gary Wockner. “Dams destroy rivers, and the idea of building more and more dams instead of rejuvenating an existing dam and reservoir is wasteful, unsustainable, and irresponsible.”

The proposed Wolf Creek Dam appears to escalate the water war occurring in the Upper Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah — which are all trying to build new dams and reservoirs as fast as possible even though they have yet to identify real needs for the water. Wyoming’s proposal for the massive Fontenelle Dam re-engineering, and Utah’s proposal for the massive Lake Powell Pipeline, appear to also be speculative attempts to get water that may not be needed.

The Wolf Creek Dam proposal is proceeding at the exact same time that the Upper Basin States sent a letter last week to the Central Arizona Project (CAP) basically accusing CAP of taking more water out of the Colorado River than CAP needs.

“The hypocrisy is bald faced,” said Gary Wockner. “Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah appear to be trying to drain the river and escalate the water war in the same way that CAP is. As these agencies try to drain more and more water out of the Colorado River system, it’s the river that suffers most.”

The Water District says it will begin the permitting process for the Wolf Creek Dam in the next year.

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