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Wyoming Water Development Looks at Project Funding

Written by Harry LaBonde

The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) is set to enter its busy fall season in which the Commission develops and recommends to the Legislature the proposed 2017 water development program for the state.

WWDC has been accepting applications for project funding since last summer, and at the Nov. 9-11 meeting in Casper, they will hear from project sponsors and staff regarding the specifics of the projects. From there, WWDC will provide preliminary recommendations for the drafting of the omnibus water bills for both planning and construction projects. WWDC will then consider and finalize the omnibus water bills at the Dec. 14-15 meeting in Cheyenne.

Once approved by the WWDC, the omnibus water bills will be forwarded to the Select Water Committee of the Legislature.

Funding concerns

As with all state agencies this last year, funding has been a concern for WWDC. The funding used by the Commission to fund water projects is derived from severance tax collections, with each of the three water development accounts (WDA) receiving a statutorily fixed percentage of taxes flowing into the Severance Tax Distribution Account. At this point in time, the distribution formulas remain unchanged, and the revenue stream supporting the water development program is stable.

The three water development accounts are designated for very specific purposes as described below:

WDA I is to fund new development projects such as new transmission pipelines, storage tanks and small reservoirs.

WDA II is to fund rehabilitation projects including canal lining, diversion structure replacement or placing open canals into pipelines.

WDA III was established in 2005 with the specific purpose of constructing new dams and reservoirs with a capacity of 2,000 acre-feet or greater and existing reservoir enlargements of 1,000 acre-feet in size or larger.

Projects

A preliminary review of the projects seeking WWDC funding this year shows a broad mix of municipal, irrigation district and conservation district projects. In the municipal sector, WWDC will be considering several new water storage tanks, multiple transmission lines, three groundwater exploration wells and supply studies that look at enhancing or expanding potable water supplies into underserved areas. Generally, these types of projects are considered new development and are funded from WDA I.

An unusually large number of watershed study requests – seven – were received this year from conservation districts. Watershed studies provide a comprehensive review and analysis of watershed health and water supply issues in the target drainage. Often times, the studies identify irrigation water shortages, which is the starting point to begin the planning process for constructing new storage reservoirs. This is exactly what happened in the Blacks Fork Watershed Study which has now advanced to a feasibility study to enlarge Meeks Cabin Dam and Reservoir.

The watershed studies are also used to identify needed small water projects, thereby qualifying them for the very popular Small Water Project Program (SWPP). In the SWPP, WWDC provides 50 percent grants to construct water features such as stock wells, stock ponds, stock water pipelines, solar platforms for stock wells and environmental improvements to stream systems.

Another interesting project up for WWDC consideration is a proposal for the state to purchase the private water assets in Lake DeSmet and Healy Reservoir. Currently, Johnson County owns Lake DeSmet with the exception of 62,199 acre-feet of space and water rights that are privately owned. Healy Reservoir, which has 5,140 acre-feet of storage, and the associated Clear Creek diversion structure, pump station and 6.7 miles of transmission pipeline are part of the package of water assets now for sale. What are the potential benefits to the state and its citizens? How might the water be used now and into the future? What are the liabilities in owning these water assets? These and other questions will need to be addressed as the WWDC determines whether to add this proposal to the 2017 Omnibus Water Bill – Construction.

Water strategy

WWDC is aggressively pursuing the Governor’s “10 in 10” water strategy. This initiative seeks to construct 10 reservoirs in the next 10 years, with the start date being 2015. Four projects in the Level II planning phase are being recommended to advance from Phase I to Phase II. Level II, Phase II studies perform extensive analyses on the preferred reservoir site along with potential alternatives. Evaluations include geotechnical, cultural resources, wetland impacts, fishery benefits/impacts, wildlife impacts, social/economic factors, hydrologic modeling, preliminary designs and cost estimates, all factors that will be considered in the project’s required environmental impact statement.

The four projects recommended for more detailed study include:

Big Wind Storage Study – Fremont County,

Greybull Valley Irrigation District Storage Enlargement – Park and Big Horn counties,

Little Wind Storage Study – Fremont County, and

New Fork Lake Dam Enlargement – Sublette County.

Additionally, the Dams and Reservoir section of the Water Development Office is recommending that construction funding be appropriated for four reservoir projects that are now in the design and permitting process. Those projects are as follows:

Alkali Creek Reservoir, located in Big Horn County, will impound approximately 8,000 acre-feet of water. The proposed dam is a 110 feet high earth-fill structure. The reservoir will provide a minimum recreation/fishery pool of 2,000 acre-feet and provide 6,000 acre-feet of late season irrigation water to the lower Nowood River drainage.

Leavitt Reservoir Expansion, located in Big Horn County, will impound approximately 6,600 acre-feet of water. The new dam will replace or enlarge the existing Leavitt Reservoir, with 643 acre-feet of storage, with a 95-foot-high earth-fill dam. The reservoir will provide an additional 5,100 acre-feet of supplemental irrigation supply to the Beaver Creek and Shell Creek drainages, along with a 1,500 acre-feet minimum recreation and fishery pool.

Middle Piney Reservoir is located in Sublette County and impounds approximately 3,370 acre-feet. It is owned by the Forest Service and, due to safety of dam issues, is at risk of being decommissioned. This project will reconstruct a portion of the earth-fill dam to resolve the safety issues. WWDC intends to enter into a long-term management agreement with the Forest Service to provide water to downstream irrigators.

Big Sandy Reservoir Enlargement, located in Sublette and Sweetwater counties, will impound an additional 13,500 acre-feet of water. If maximized, the project will enlarge the existing reservoir by raising the existing spillway approximately five feet. The additional water storage will be used to improve the reliability of the irrigation supply for Eden Valley Irrigation and Drainage District.

WWDC continues to pursue the construction of water development projects across the state that provide secure and safe drinking water supplies, reliable irrigation systems and enhanced water storage so Wyoming citizens may continue to prosper during times of drought as well as enjoy the associated recreation benefits. Overall, some 65 projects and programs are on the agenda for the November 2016 WWDC meeting.