White River Sees Second Call in History

Day two of the First Quarterly General & Enterprise meeting of 2023 began with a guest presentation from Erin Light, Division 6 Engineer, who joined the Board virtually to discuss water administration and updates from the Yampa/White/Green River Basin. Light focused mostly on the White River Basin, which generated headlines over the last month due to an historic call – only the second call ever in the history of Colorado’s administration.

Call on the White River

On December 1, 2022, the Rio Blanco Conservancy District placed the second-ever call on the White River at Taylor Draw Dam where the district holds a senior water right for power production.

“We’re curtailing all junior diversions upstream to try and meet the demand of the senior water right at Taylor Draw,” reported Light.

The water right at the dam’s power conduit is for 620 cfs for power generation, adjudicated in 1966, and the turbine’s maximum capacity is 700 cfs. Rio Blanco Conservancy District needs a minimum of 175 cfs to generate power and has struggled to do so in recent years during significant parts of the summer season.

A measuring device is required to place a call on the river, and Taylor Draw hosts a pressure sensor that records data every 15 minutes and sends daily updates to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) through their online portal.

Since the call was initiated, 16 cfs of mainly livestock water has been curtailed. For the rest of the winter into spring runoff, flows will start to increase, and once turbine capacity is exceeded, the call will come off. “It is my understanding the Rio Blanco Conservancy District wants this to be a continuous call,” said Light. “Once flows come back down, the peak has receded below turbine capacity, they want the call back on. When the call does come back on, it’s obviously going to look a lot different during irrigation season than it does right now.”

Division 6 Over-Appropriation

The neighboring Yampa River Basin, also in Division 6, recently earned an “over-appropriated” designation. Light opined that the same is in store for the White River – she believes it’s been over-appropriated for a while.

“More and more we’re seeing reduced flows in the summer rather than the tail ends of the year [below Coal Creek],” she said. “Chances are this basin is going to be named over-appropriated upstream of Taylor Draw.”

Measurement Rules

As of December 2022, the White River Basin in Division 6 has just over 400 structures without measuring devices. DWR recently had meetings with local conservation districts, who Light says were surprised by that number.

The opportunity to file protests regarding the new measurement rules ended on December 31, 2022. Light mentioned they received seven (7) protests, but of those only two had substantive comments. The rest were entities wanting to just keep tabs on/be involved in the process.

“Our attorneys are reaching out to each of these protests to enter into stipulations with each,” she said. She hopes the five without substantive comments will come to a resolution quickly.