Colorado district wants to hoard drinking water so oil companies can maybe use it

Nov 8, 2012 Posted by

 Grist

By Philip Bump

J B Foster
The White River Valley, Colorado

 

Here’s a good question for the courts: Should a water district be allowed to stockpile water from a river for the use of oil and gas companies instead of letting it flow downstream to provide drinking water? Hm. That’s a tough question! From the Denver Post:

A western Colorado water district is fighting for rights to divert and store huge amounts of water from the White River — enough to sustain a large city — for uses that include oil shale industrial development.

Colorado’s Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments by the Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District, which is challenging a state water court’s decision rejecting its rights to 140,000 acre-feet of water from the river — water that otherwise would flow into the Green and Colorado rivers. …

“To hold all these water rights for oil shale — a very large amount of water for the little White River — doesn’t make sense,” said Joe Livingston, 70, a sheep rancher east of Meeker who worries new canals would cut across his pastures. “When they tie it up, it means other legitimate users can’t use it. The amount of water they filed for could pretty much dry up the White River, which is a premier fishing river.”

The White flows into the Green which flows into the Colorado — water which is then a major source of drinking water for Los Angeles. But I’m sure they can drink something else. There’s a whole ocean right next to them!

And now for the kicker:

Formed in 1959, Yellow Jacket collects about $30,000 a year from property taxpayers in northwestern Colorado. The district lacks bylaws, its lawyers said in court. Its purpose was to develop water supplies, and the predominant focus in recent years has been water for oil and gas development.

In the 1980s, Exxon and others prepared to develop oil shale in western Colorado, which requires huge amounts of water, and then abandoned the project.

In other words, the water district wants to reserve half of the water in the river for oil-shale development that isn’t happening. But, you know, just in case!

I’m sure that if we just explain this all very calmly to the people of California — that their drinking water is being held just in case oil companies figure out a way to extract oil shale which we can then burn and exacerbate the climate change that threatens to create permanent drought conditions in the Southwest which will then make this whole dispute unnecessary — they’ll understand.

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