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Water

WWDC’s Dam and Reservoir Division builds on rehab, new construction projects

Written by Christy Martinez

Casper – Over the past 30 years, around $225 million in grant loans have been given out for approximately 30 water projects rehabilitated or constructed through the Wyoming Water Development Commission’s Dam and Reservoir Division.

The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) was established in 1979 for projects throughout the state dealing with conservation, storage, distribution and the general use of Wyoming water.

“Funded by the Mineral Severance Tax, the WWDC takes funds generated from the development of renewable resources and invests them in the renewable resource of water,” said WWDC Dam and Reservoir Division hydrologist Jason Mead in a presentation he gave at the WWDC annual meeting Oct. 26 in Casper. “The WWDC has three accounts: Account 1 is for new development, Account 2 is rehabilitation for structures 15 years and older, and Account 3 is for dams and reservoirs, which was created in 2005 to identify, evaluate, construct and permit new dams.”

Mead said that currently the reservoir account contains $125 million, and that project criteria is unique for the dams and reservoirs program.

“The project has to be 200,000 acre-feet or larger for new storage, and 1,000 acre-feet or bigger on existing storage,” he explained, adding that sponsor requirements are also different, due to the complexity of dams and the questions that need answers. “We don’t require a sponsor to become a public entity until Level 2, Phase 3, which is the design and permitting stage, while other WWDC projects require a sponsor for Level 2 feasibility studies.”

Mead said affordability for agriculture is helped through the flexibility of the agency to put forth a grant and loan based on the sponsor’s ability to pay, and what additional revenue they might get from stored water. He said the public benefit for recreation, erosion control and flood control is also considered.

“The more benefits, the better,” he said.

Other considerations for financing might be that if there is a reservoir with a minimum pool for recreation or fisheries, the WWDC could choose to apply the grant loan to just the portion that’s irrigation water to make it more affordable.

“Regardless of how it’s financed, when the project is done the sponsor is expected to take over ownership and be responsible for operation, maintenance and replacement cost,” noted Mead.

Any application that comes into the division office starts with a Level 1 watershed study, which identifies a long list of reservoirs to see if there’s a need for storage in the area. Level 1 also puts together an irrigation rehabilitation plan and gathers natural resource information, incorporating it into a GIS database.

Mead says the advantages to gathering that information in the first step is that fatal flaws in alternative sites can be quickly identified, such as wetlands, geology, big game habitat or sage grouse. It also prepares the project for the NEPA process. He says the irrigation rehabilitation is provided as a service to landowners, who can have a consultant identify needs, problems or fixes to the irrigation systems.

“It brings the landowners together, which is what you’ll need to get a reservoir built,” said Mead.

Level 2, Phase 1 emphasizes hydrology, with modeling that incorporates irrigated lands, historical diversions and return flows to identify if there are water shortages, and what water might be available to store. It also looks at environmental impacts, geology, the cost/benefit of the project and preliminary plans.

“When we go from the watershed to the Level 2 study, we go from 35 to 40 identified alternatives to two or three that will be carried on to the Level 2, Phase 2 stage,” said Mead.

Level 2, Phase 3 requires an entity to be formed, and where the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement take place and permits are put together, along with the plans, specs and design of the project.

And then, Mead said, Level 3 is “when the dirt, hopefully, flies.”

“From Level 1 on through we’re talking with landowners and bringing them along, addressing concerns and giving information,” said Mead of the planning. “The last thing we want to do is build a reservoir of which the landowners aren’t in favor.”

From 1979 through 2011 there have been about 17 rehabilitation projects take place through the Dams and Reservoirs Division, and there have been about eight enlargement projects. New construction has included the Tie Hack Reservoir built in the late ‘90s for the town of Buffalo, Roach Gulch for the Greybull Valley Irrigation District and High Savery Reservoir, which is state-owned and holds about 22,000 acre-feet of water. The state contracts with the Savery/Little Snake River Water Conservancy District for water from High Savery.

Today the district has 12 projects in the works. For rehabilitation, it’s working with the city of Rawlins on the Atlantic Rim Reservoir, which has seepage problems which are being addressed with a liner and an underdrain. Similar projects are ongoing in the Middle Piney Reservoir and Cottonwood Lake on the west side of the Wyoming Range.

“They’re both built on ancient landslides, and seepage comes with landslides. We’re working with the Forest Service and local landowners to rehabilitate and keep up that storage, because Middle Piney is 3,500 acre-feet and has a pre-compact right of 1919,” explained Mead. “To take that dam out would change the hydrograph, because it regulates the creek and has taken out their problems with flooding. It’s a win-win to get it done.”

In addition to a pair of enlargement projects in southwest Wyoming, new storage in western Wyoming might include the Sublette Creek Reservoir, which would hold 5,000 acre-feet for the Cokeville Development Company. It would sit on Sublette Creek but would be fed by water out of the Smith Fork.
New development also includes the Little Snake River Alternative Storage near Baggs, which is narrowing in on a site on the west fork of Battle Creek. That project would include 10,000 acre-feet of water.

Other projects include municpal water for the city of Sheridan, enlarging reservoirs below Hamilton Dome in the Bighorn Basin and proposed new storage in the Nowood River Basin as well as near Shell Creek near Shell.

“Many of these projects are in Level 2, Phase 1,” said Mead. “There are some good opportunities, and I’m optimistic we’ll start to permit some of these, and hopefully have some new storage on the ground in the next few years.”

All projects through the WWDC Dams and Reservoirs Division can be reviewed online at wrds.uwyo.edu. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..