A public-sector water conservancy is appealing to the Colorado Supreme Court for the right to divert and store water for prospective clients, including shale oil and gas operators. A state water court earlier denied the proposal by Yellow Jacket Water Conservancy District.

While the water district’s attorney has told local news media that Yellow Jacket is also seeking towns and irrigators as its clients, the prospect of setting aside water for oil/gas development has some local ranching and other interests up in arms.

Yellow Jacket went to the state’s high court seeking reversal of the water court’s decision to deny the water district the right to 140,000 acre-feet of water from the White River. That is considered enough water to sustain a large city, and the district has said it wants it for oil shale industrial development.

Yellow Jacket attorney Sarah Klahn told local news media there is “plenty of water” available in the White River, and her clients proposal would keep more water in the state, “rather than letting flow downstream to California.”

A coalition of residents whose taxes support the Yellow Jacket district are opposing the proposed project. A spokesperson for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) said the industry group is not involved in the controversy.

Yellow Jacket is proposing to build reservoirs east of Meeker, CO, in the White River Valley in the northwest corner of the state. Some ranchers are concerned the proposed canals for the water network would cut across their pastures. The district contends that its rural-based board went through all the appropriate legal steps to acquire the rights to the water and the conservancy should be able to move ahead with its plans.

In the 1980s, a unit of Exxon had planned oil shale development in western Colorado with the idea that it would require large quantities of water. Economics at the time eventually caused the plans to be shelved. Last May, two research projects emerged to assess the oil shale potential of the Piceance Basin in the region (see Shale Daily, May 23). They are undergoing preliminary assessment by the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado. Oil shale is not the same as shale oil. Oil shale comes from kerogen-rich rocks closer to the surface than shale oil formations.