I know Shell was sitting on a bunch of Yampa water rights waiting for the opportunity to access this oil when the technology improved that it made sense financially. These rights were challenged, and Shell eventually had to give them up. So the oil companies are very aware of the need for this water to drill in this area. Shell was just trying to get in before the price went up. The one benefit to our water laws is that they prevent a company like Shell from just collecting water rights without putting them to beneficial use.
The fact of the matter is that when it makes sense financially to go after this oil the oil companies will get the water rights necessary to make the operation work. I'd like to think that there was something we could do to keep this water in the river, but there is so much money sitting in the shale that its hard to imagine that anything could stop this from happening. I just hope the farmers that currently hold these rights are smart enough to make these companies pay top dollar.