Shell requests water rights on Yampa

Application includes large reservoir west of Maybell

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— Shell Frontier Oil & Gas Inc. has filed for surface water and water storage rights on the Yampa River, from two diversion points west of Maybell in Moffat County.

Erin Light, local water division engineer for the state Department of Natural Resources, confirmed Wednesday that Shell filed an application at the Routt County Justice Center on Dec. 30, 2008. The application requests a surface, or direct-flow, allocation of 375 cubic feet per second, or cf/s. In late June of 2008, during peak runoff, the Yampa flowed through downtown Steamboat Springs at about 2,000 cf/s.

Shell's request is a conditional water right, meaning if decreed the water will not be used immediately but will be available for Shell in the future. Shell is requesting to pull the water from two diversion points that are west, or downstream, of Maybell in Moffat County - but upstream of the Yampa's confluence with the Little Snake River, Light said.

Shell's application says the water would be used "for industrial and mining purposes, including but not limited to drilling activities:power generation:and other activities in connection with the mining and production of oil and other products from oil shale."

The application also requests a water storage right to construct and fill the Cedar Springs Draw Reservoir in the same Moffat County area, off a tributary of the Yampa, using water from the requested direct-flow allocation. The reservoir would hold 45,000 acre-feet of water.

"It's a significant amount (of water)," Light said. "It's bigger than Stagecoach (Reservoir) is today."

Stagecoach Reservoir holds about 33,275 acre-feet of water, with an additional 3,250 acre-feet planned from a spillway expansion. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, enough to meet the needs of a family of five for a year.

Light said Shell is likely facing a long process to turn the application into a decreed water right. The process begins, Light said, with a public opposition period that will run at least through February.

"I believe there's going to be a lot of opposition," Light said, citing other planned water projects in Northwest Colorado and across the Colorado River system. "Anytime you get an opposer in the case, it's going to take a long time before you get this water right decreed."

Light said three years is her guess at a timetable for Shell to receive a decree - but the court filing puts a timely stamp on Shell's potential water right.

"This application was filed in 2008 and thus it will have a 2008 priority," Light said. "Any water right filed in 2009 will have a 2009 priority and will be junior."

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