Unconventionally Speaking

White River Water

Talking about water in Colorado is like talking about the weather in Colorado, it is not all the same thing everywhere in the state.  Colorado in general and Western Colorado particularly, are considered to be part of the arid west.  But many places in the state, including Rio Blanco County, where IEP plans to develop oil shale experience annual precipitation of 35 inches. Rio-Blanco county precipitation maphttp://www.co.rio-blanco.co.us/development/pdf/RBC_Precipitation.pdf

The state’s water situation is often discussed as if it was some coherent unity.  In reality the situation is highly fragmented.  The states hydrography is separated into at least 10 different river basins.  Situations vary from basin to basin.  IEP’s property is situated in the White River Basin where there is a large surplus of water over and above present needs for all purposes.

First and foremost of those purposes are minimum river flows necessary to sustain fisheries and wildlife, including habitat for the endangered Colorado pikeminnow.  Diversions for fisheries in the White River during the late 1990’s were around 23,000 acre feet per year, equating to a continuous flow of about 32 cubic feet per second.1


However, most western rivers, and especially the White River, do not flow uniformly.  Water flows are seasonal with a pronounced peak in the spring as snow melt leaves the basin.Monthly flows - White River


These peak flows greatly exceed the minimum stream flows needed for fish and wildlife.  If storage structures are available, some of this peak surplus can be held and released over the course of the year when stream flows are much lower.  This stored water can be released in times of drought when fisheries need additional stream flow and they can be diverted through pipelines or by other means to supply industrial needs like oil shale development.  Water from the spring flood can both help insure adequate flows for wildlife while also supplying industrial water without depleting the river during periods of low flows.

Historic hydrology on the White River (1923 to 1997) shows that base stream flows have fallen below 200 cfs 5% of the time and below 150 cfs 1% of the time.2   Minimum stream flows for endangered fish in the White River have been identified as 161 cfs.3

White River profile 1995 and 1996


If we take it as a given that minimum streamflows in the White River must be maintained at 161 cfs, then this equates to a discharge from the basin of 116,500 acre feet.

The White River flows over 600,000 acre feet per year on average, but consumptive use of this water in Colorado, amounts to less than 37,000 acre feet, so only around 5% of the water in the White River is consumed.4   IEP will use no more than 2 barrels of water per barrel of oil produced (probably substantially less).  Our baseline development calls for peak production of 250,000 barrels of shale oil per day.  That will result in consumption of not more than 24,000 AF per year.  This would increase the total of all depletions in the White River to less than 10% of the total flow.


White River flow near Meeker


If stream flows for fisheries of 116,500 AF are added to consumption for all other uses of 37,000 AF, then the White River can supply over 500,000 AF for other uses, including oil shale development.


1THE WHITE RIVER AND ENDANGERED FISH RECOVERY: A HYDROLOGICAL, PHYSICAL AND BIOLOGICAL SYNOPSIS, Final Report September 1998, Updated and Edited September 2000, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 1594 W. North Temple,Salt Lake City, Utah John F. Kimball, Director, Table 2, P. 20.
2White River Base Flow Study for Endangered Fishes, Colorado and Utah, 1996-1996, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Feb. 2004, Vernal, Utah, p. 21.
3Ibid. p. 17.

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