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Guest Opinions

Water Development Programs Looks Toward 2014

The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) recently completed its final recommendations for the 2014 Water Development Program. Those recommendations or projects are now contained in two legislative bills: the Omnibus Water Bill – Planning, designated House Bill (HB) 72, and the Omnibus Water Bill – Construction, designated Senate File (SF) 66. The Planning Bill seeks to fund 29 reconnaissance and feasibility studies for a total of $6,213,000, while the Construction Bill contains 19 new projects and 10 project amendments with a total value of $22,664,350.

The projects that are now before the Legislature represent a wide spectrum of project sponsors and project types. Of the 58 projects contained in the two bills, the distribution of project sponsors includes 24 municipal entities, 20 irrigation entities, six potable water districts, five state projects and three conservation or conservancy districts.

This seemingly even distribution between potable water projects and irrigation water projects demonstrates the broad appeal of the program and reinforces the program goal of developing Wyoming’s water resources for both current and future water needs in the state. 

The WWDC is authorized to fund a variety of project types, and this year’s group of projects represents a wide range of allowed categories.  Keeping in mind that the goal of the program is to develop Wyoming’s water resources, the WWDC has recommended funding projects in nine categories.

Irrigation System Rehabilitation is the first category. Irrigation districts face the constant challenge of maintaining their infrastructure, which, in some cases, can exceed 100 years of age. The WWDC will provide a 67 percent grant and 33 percent loan funding package to rehabilitate existing canals, diversion structures and dams. 

As an option, the WWDC will provide a “materials only” grant whereby the WWDC funds 100 percent of material costs while the district provides all of the labor, equipment and management for the project. This has been very popular with some districts as it allows them to keep their work force employed on a full time basis. For example, in the spring-summer season, crews are delivering water, and in the fall-winter season, they become construction crews.   

Another irrigation rehabilitation project that districts undertake is to install pipelines to replace unlined canals. This has been shown to reduce or eliminate seepage losses thereby delivering up to 30 percent more water to the intended cropland. 

The second category is municipal system development and rehabilitation. Maintaining and expanding municipal potable water systems to meet future growth is a continual focus of the state’s cities and towns. The WWDC provides a 67 percent grant and 33 percent loan package for eligible projects, which include transmission pipelines, storage tanks, wells and diversion structures. 

Rural water systems are another area of focus. Numerous water districts provide potable water to rural customers who do not reside inside cities or towns. These systems face the same challenges as their municipal counterparts and are afforded the same 67 percent grant and 33 percent loan packages as municipal sponsors.

Water planning provides an additional area of funding. The WWDC conducts two types of water planning studies in the state. 

The first is the river basin program, which provides an assessment of water uses, supplies and potential in each of the state’s main river basins. This year the WWDC will proceed with an update of the Platte River Basin Plan, which was last reviewed in 2006. 

The second type of water plan funded by the WWDC is a Watershed Plan. These analyze smaller basins and focus on identifying specific water problems and recommending potential solutions. Two new watershed studies are proposed in the Planning Bill.

Funding is also provided for hydropower studies. The WWDC will fund hydropower studies to determine the feasibility and costs for a particular project. 

This year’s Planning Bill includes two projects that will investigate the possibilities of rehabilitating existing hydropower sites. Under the water development program the WWDC will fund 100 percent of hydropower feasibility studies but does not fund design or construction of such projects. 

However, the State Loan and Investment Board will provide design and construction funding in the form of a 100 percent loan.

The next funding category is dams and reservoirs. The WWDC has 10 active reservoir feasibility studies underway, and the Planning Bill includes two new studies of potential sites. Currently one of the 10 projects is in the design and permitting phase, and the Planning Bill will move a second project to the design and permitting phase. 

The small water project program is also funded. The WWDC has been funding small water projects for the last 10 years with great success. Conservation districts are the typical sponsor for these improvements, which must include public benefits. Small water projects typically include stock wells, stock pipelines, stock dams and diversion structures. 

This year’s Construction Bill will add $600,000 for new projects and $300,000 for rehabilitation projects. The bill will also redefine a small water project as a project as with a construction value of less than $135,000 of which the state will fund a maximum of $35,000 on a 50 percent grant basis. 

Weather modification is an ongoing effort funded by WWDC money. The Planning Bill seeks to fund one feasibility study that will evaluate weather modification potential in the Wyoming Range. The Construction Bill contains one project that will set up and run an operational snow augmentation program in the Wind River Mountains in the 2014–15 winter season. This operational program is predicated on lower Colorado River Basin water users contributing 75 percent of the actual program costs and is designed to help mitigate the impacts of long term drought in the Colorado River Basin. 

Finally, WWDC helps to fund University of Wyoming water research. The WWDC has historically funded small water research projects at the university. The main goals of the program are to fund competent research that addresses water problems, aid the entry of new research scientists in the water resources field, help to train future water scientists and engineers and to provide useful information to water managers and the public on current water issues.

As one can see the WWDC program is helping Wyoming communities and water users to maintain and develop a reliable water infrastructure for present conditions and into the future. It benefits a wide range of water users and is flexible in the types of projects it can fund. 

Be sure and follow these two Omnibus Water Bills in the upcoming session as they will both provide positive benefits to water users across the state.