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Guest Opinions

2015 Wyoming Water Development Bills

Written by Harry LaBonde

By Harry LaBonde, Director, Wyoming Water Development Office

     The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and Select Water Committee (SWC) have completed their work on three bills that will be considered by the 2015 Legislature. This year’s slate of bills includes the Omnibus Water Bill; Planning, Omnibus Water Bill; Construction and Water Development; Amendments Bill. 

The recommended appropriation contained in these three bills totals $65,952,963. This is significantly higher than recent years and reflects an increased number of projects, as well as several large rehabilitation projects in Water Development Account II (WDA II). Additionally, three dams and reservoir projects are being advanced to the design and permitting phase which results in larger expenditures. 

Here is a rundown of the three bills.

The Omnibus Water Bill – Planning, Senate File (SF) 55, contains 29 projects with a total value of $19,346,302. The distribution among the three water development accounts is as follows:

Water Development Account I (WDA I) New Development – $5,899,302

Water Development Account II (WDA II) Rehabilitation – $597,000

Water Development Account III (WDA III) Dams and Reservoirs – $12,850,000

In WDA I the Planning Bill includes four new watershed studies for the Bear River, Middle North Platte River, Upper Laramie River and Upper Snake River drainages. These watershed studies are important because they address water related problems on a watershed basis and seek to identify solutions. The solutions can come in the form of potential water storage projects to resolve supply shortages or entry into the WWDC’s small water project program, which funds small scale projects to assist in best management practices in the watershed. 

The Planning Bill for WDA III contains funding for three new water storage projects, Greybull Valley Irrigation District Storage Enlargement, Meeks Cabin Dam Enlargement and New Fork Lake Dam Enlargement. All three of these projects are proposed to begin feasibility studies, and the Meeks Cabin project is the result of the Blacks Fork Watershed Study that was funded in 2013. 

Also contained in the Planning Bill (WDA III) are three dam and reservoir projects that are moving to the design and permitting phase. This is the critical and most difficult phase of a reservoir project in which we seek the required federal permits and complete the requisite National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. It means that the WWDC believes that these projects have a documented purpose and need and are feasible to construct. The projects are Big Sandy Enlargement, Nowood River Storage – Alkali Creek and Shell Valley Storage – Leavitt Reservoir. 

In the Omnibus Water Bill – Construction, House Bill (HB) 70, there are 29 new projects and 14 project amendments totaling $46,106,661. The funding distribution between the three water development accounts is as follows:

Water Development Account I (WDA I) New Development – $26,403,870

Water Development Account II (WDA II) Rehabilitation – $14,074,791

Water Development Account III (WDA III) Dams and Reservoirs – $5,628,000

The Construction Bill includes two weather modification projects. The first is the operational program in the Wind River Mountains for the 2015-16 winter season with an appropriation of $170,000. Before this project can begin, the Water Development Office is required to secure $480,000 in outside funding from in-basin water users. This is an identical provision to last year’s program in which entities from Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah funded 75 percent of weather augmentation costs anticipating that excess flows will end up in the lower basin of the Colorado River.

The second weather modification project was added to the bill in the Select Water Committee meeting on Dec. 12, 2014. It outlines a program to begin setting up an operational weather modification program in the Big Horn, Laramie Range, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre Mountains. Initial aspects to this project will be to conduct feasibility studies in the Big Horn and Laramie Range Mountains. Public outreach and exploring the potential for cost sharing with in-basin water users will be part of these studies. In the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre Mountains, the project will move directly into design and permitting. This is because of the extensive work that has been completed as part of Wyoming’s Scientific Pilot Study that is nearing completion. Preliminary results from the Pilot Study indicate that a five to 15 percent increase in precipitation can be expected in seedable storms. 

Rehabilitation projects from WDA II in the Construction Bill included several large projects that exceeded available funding in WDA II. As such, the Water Development Office submitted an $18.6 million supplemental budget request to assist in funding seven specific projects. Those projects include Dull Knife Reservoir, Guernsey Spillway Rehabilitation, Bull Lake Dam Spillway, Sheridan Tank Rehabilitation, Wind River Irrigation Rehabilitation, Eden Valley – Farson Lateral and Douglas Transmission Line, which is a 2016 project.

The Construction Bill had one dam and reservoir project, which is the Sheridan Supplemental Storage Project for $5,628,000. After completing numerous water supply studies which analyzed the various alternatives available to Sheridan, the most cost effective option for the short term was the purchase of existing reservoir shares in Park Reservoir. Through this project, the WWDC will provide a 67 percent grant to the sponsor to purchase up to 2,500 acre-feet of shares in the reservoir.

The third and final WWDC bill is the Water Development – Amendments Bill, designated as SF 51. This bill seeks to accomplish three things:

First, it strives to modify the Sponsor’s Inflation Fund statutes, W.S. 99-3-1106 and W.S. 99-3-1304, to allow for greater flexibility in financially assisting project budgets with oversight from the Select Water Committee. An additional appropriation of $500,000 is also requested for this fund.

Next, it would authorize the WWDC to review and recommend funding for project applications seeking Colorado River Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) funding in Wyoming. This is a relatively new funding program that makes approximately $1.6 million per year available to Wyoming for water related projects in the Colorado River drainage.

It also authorizes the WWDC to review, recommend and administer construction grants for salinity control projects in the Colorado River drainage in Wyoming. Potential funding for this new Basin States Program (BSP) is $2.8 million over the next five years.