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Overview of the Wyoming Water Development Program

The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) program was established in 1979 and has undergone a number of changes in its 34-year history. However, the overall concept of the program has remained the same during those years. That is, the program’s guiding principle is “to utilize tax revenues generated from non-renewable resources, including minerals, oil and gas, to develop Wyoming’s most valuable renewable resource – water – for the benefit of current and future generations.” 

The purpose of this article is to provide a broad overview of the WWDC program and better inform water providers of the funding opportunities available to them. 

The program is managed by the Water Development Commission, whose 10 members are appointed by the governor and serve terms of four years. The Legislature’s Select Committee on Water, which also provides the important interface with the full legislature, provides additional oversight. The active management of the program’s 140-plus ongoing projects is provided by the Water Development Office staff, which is primarily located in Cheyenne.

The Wyoming Water Development Program is segregated into three distinct funds. Each fund is designated for use on different categories of projects. 

Those funds include the Water Development Account I, Water Development Account II, and Water Development Account III

Water Development Account I (WDA I) is used to finance a wide category of new development projects. Those projects include:

New Development – Funds projects involving new facilities that provide for new or enhanced use of the State’s water. Typical examples include transmission pipelines, water storage tanks, new wells and diversion structures;

Water Resource Planning – Includes development of watershed studies, river basin plans and the statewide water plan;

Groundwater Exploration – Provides for the exploration and identification of new groundwater sources in the state;

Small Water Projects – Funds the development of range improvement water projects such as stock water pipelines, wells and stock reservoirs. The overall project cost cannot exceed $100,000;

General Agency Operations;

Management of the state’s reservoir accounts and state-owned High Savery Dam and Reservoir – The state has acquired water storage contracts in several Federal reservoirs and actively manages those accounts for the designated water uses. 

Water Development Account II (WDA II) is used to rehabilitate existing water supply systems. Typical projects include:

Replacement of municipal transmission pipelines; and

Lining or piping of irrigation canals.

Water Development Account III (WDAIII) was created in 2006 to focus the State’s efforts at constructing dams and reservoirs. Eligible projects include:

New reservoirs with a capacity of 2,000 acre-feet or more; and

Enlargement of existing reservoirs where the enlargement adds 1,000 acre-feet of capacity or more.

WWDC projects involve three levels of review and funding. The purpose of this process is to ensure that all projects undergo extensive analyses that include alternative evaluation, cost estimating, feasibility studies and economic and environmental analysis. 

The three project levels are Level I, Level II and Level III.

Level I projects are studied in a very broad conceptual basis to determine the project needs, priorities and costs. Master plans and reconnaissance studies are included in Level I. These studies are 100 percent funded by the WWDC. 

In the Level II phase, the sponsor, or project owner, has selected a particular project to pursue. In Level II a comprehensive feasibility study of the project is prepared, which includes a detailed cost estimate. Level II studies are 100 percent funded by the WWDC. 

Level III represents the phase in which project design, permitting, land acquisition and construction are completed. The typical funding for Level III projects is a 67 percent WWDC grant and a 33 percent local share, which can take the form of a four percent loan from the WWDC. 

There are several exceptions to this funding package. 

In cases of significant financial hardship, the WWDC may offer grants up to 75 percent of eligible project costs. 

Small water project funding is capped at $25,000 per project.

Groundwater exploration grants are capped at $400,000 with the sponsor providing 25 percent of total costs. 

For dams and reservoirs, the WWDC may recommend higher grant percentages based on the sponsor’s ability to pay.

For materials-only grants where an irrigation district provides all labor and equipment to construct a project, the WWDC funds 100 percent of all material costs.

It should be noted that an eligibility criterion for accessing the WWDC program requires that the Sponsor be a legal governmental entity in Wyoming. This includes municipalities, special districts such as water and sewer or improvement and service districts, and irrigation districts.

Over the last 34 years the WWDC has completed over 500 studies and projects. This has included a number of large projects such as the High Savery Dam and Reservoir in Carbon County with an expenditure of $31.5 million, the Greybull Valley Dam and Reservoir for $31.2 million, the Hawk Springs Dam Rehabilitation for $8.49 million, the Buffalo Bill Dam Enlargement for $52 million, the Pathfinder Reservoir Modification and Enlargement for $6.6 million and the Gillette Madison Well Field Expansion for $1.6 million.

If you would like to learn more about the WWDC program visit wwdc.state.wy.us or call the office at 307-777-7626.