In other action
At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission:
• Approved, 3-0, signing a statement of opposition with the Steamboat Springs water court regarding Shell Frontier Oil & Gas' water right filing on the Yampa River.
Commissioner Tom Gray stressed the county is not opposed to Shell's water right, but filing a statement of opposition is the only way for the county to be involved in the water court process.
The county's statement cited several reasons for its interest, including:
- Shell's water request would completely flood a portion of County Road 23, "thereby destroying county property and potentially disrupting county services."
- If granted, the request would adversely impact the county's existing water rights and possibly "negatively affect" its ability to develop future water uses on the Yampa River.
- Shell seems to be circumventing the single fill rule by proposing to fill a 45,000 acre-feet reservoir multiple times a year.
• Approved, 3-0, a $17,101.60 bid from Axis Steel to provide the Moffat County Road and Bridge Department with materials for cattle guards. It was the lowest of four bids received. A bid from Todd's Welding was disqualified because it was not submitted in a sealed, opaque envelope with the project name, bid date, time or type of bid.
• Approved, 3-0, a $2,805.05 tax abatement for Troy and Debra Taylor. Their property was reclassified from vacant residential to agricultural, which the state taxes at a lower level.
• Approved, 3-0, a $3,012.24 tax abatement for Wexpro. The company mistakenly included an out-of-use well on its tax declarations and was charged undue taxes.
Craig County officials are aware of issues surrounding coal-bed methane extraction in the San Juan, Raton and Piceance basins.
The development has been linked to drying up water wells and streams in other places across Colorado and the Rocky Mountain west, and local officials want to be proactive before potential problems arise.
With that in mind, the Moffat County Commission unanimously approved signing a grant contract with the Colorado Water Conservation Board to survey local groundwater and aquifer conditions before widespread coal-bed methane development occurs locally.
Coal-bed methane is methane gas trapped by surrounding water pressure inside coal seams. Developers have to pump all the water out to harvest the gas.
In some cases, taking water from the coal seam can drain aquifers and other water sources nearby, causing reduced flows in aboveground streams and lower water levels in surrounding wells.
Moffat County's grant contract will pay for Colorado Geological Survey to map the entire Sand Wash Basin - which includes all of Moffat and Routt counties and parts of Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties - for underground links between surface water, underground aquifers and coal seams.
Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director, said officials hope this will allow the county to know about potential problem spots before development occurs.
"We want to be proactive," he said. "There's areas where coal-bed methane is blamed for depleting water rights. In other places, these studies didn't happen until after people started seeing problems. We want to have a good feel for what the impacts could be before they happen."
Colorado Geological Survey conducted three similar studies in the San Juan, Raton and Piceance basins and found mixed results.
Peter Barkmann, supervisor of hydrogeology for Geological Survey, participated in each of those and will be part of the local study, as well.
The impacts from coal-bed methane development in the San Juan and Piceance basins was minimal, Barkmann said, but the Raton Basin saw "significant" effects.
Whether the Sand Wash Basin will be susceptible to methane extraction depends on specific geological conditions and how much industrial activity there is, Barkmann said. The pending study will help illustrate these criteria.
Hiring Colorado Geological Survey will cost about $121,000, but Moffat County doesn't have to carry much of the burden.
The county will match $1,500 with another $500 from Routt County, $20,000 from the Yampa/White/Green River Waterbasin Roundtable and $98,835 from the statewide Water Supply Reserve Account.
The Moffat County Land Use Board - a panel of local residents and government representatives - supports the contract because of the potential community impact, said Ed Winter, the board's chairman.
"Something like this is the role of government, to protect all its constituents," he told the commission on Tuesday. "I think this is in the best interest of protecting the citizens of Moffat County."