Storage strategy changesWritten by Christy Hemken
In an address at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association summer meeting on June 6, WWDC Director Mike Purcell said the old system did produce results.
“Under the old criteria the best financing plan was a 75 percent grant and a 25 percent loan at four percent for 50 years,” he said. “We had some successes and built some dams, such as with the Greybull Valley Irrigation District and the High Savery Dam in Carbon County.”
However, Purcell said Gov. Freudenthal and the Commission had an interest in moving faster with development. “If we were going to build more construction projects we had to come up with better terms,” said Purcell. “As good as the old ones were, we weren’t getting the job done.”
He says a key component of the new terms are partnerships. “The Commission and Select Water Committee are willing to work with water users to construct additional storage projects in the state,” he said.
According to Purcell, numerous storage opportunities still exist in Wyoming. “In the Green River of Wyoming water is flowing out of our state to housewives in Arizona. The Big Horn Basin has an incredible amount of water. In the Upper Colorado we were worrying about downstream commitments with the drought, but there’s water there for development. We’re entitled to storage water that we haven’t been using.”
Purcell said he thinks the only basin in the state without storage opportunities is the Snake River Basin around Jackson.
“The best partner on a storage project is agriculture, because ag always needs water,” he continued. “If agriculture can show a purpose and need for the water, that makes it easier for us to get through the federal clearances to build. We need their help as we go through the federal permitting process – a process not for the weak at heart.”
In addition, Purcell said he wants “peace in the valley” when storage projects are planned. “No one wants to hear me say I’m from state government and I’m here to help. We need water users to promote peace to get the storage facility completed. If the valley doesn’t want the storage project, we’re not going to get it done because federal permitting pays more attention to dissenters.”
Describing the process that the new terms support, Purcell said a baseline planning effort will define storage opportunities. “After that we’ll look at watersheds to find storage and water management opportunities, then we’d like to see water users come together and seek feasibility studies for various reservoir sites before we would prepare a joint feasibility study,” he said.
If the project is deemed a good investment, water users and the WWDC will sign a memorandum of understanding and the state will take the lead role in designing the facility and obtaining permits.
“Should there be a requirement for some water to go to mitigation, the state will pay for that portion of the water,” noted Purcell.
In return, the water users would form an irrigation district. “They also need to be willing to pay a reasonable price for the water, and agree to operate and maintain the dam and reservoir,” he explained.
Even as he promoted new storage opportunities, Purcell cautioned, “The state has invested in storage facilities and I’m proud to say they did, but at the same time there has never been a call for any water we have in those facilities and that brings problems.
“Storage without use is not a solution. Various compacts and decrees mention storage throughout, but our entitlements are for consumptive use or diversions. It is the use that preserves our water, not storage. Storage promotes use, but storing it is not using it and that’s why we need partnerships – people on the ground as good stewards of storage water and the facility we construct.”
Besides water rights, Purcell said storage without use accustoms societies to full reservoirs. “They like the flat-water recreation and they like the flows and fisheries below the dams,” he said. “So when we do find a use for that water, it gets harder to put it to beneficial use because those that have built cabins on the water’s edge don’t want to see the levels fluctuate and the fisheries may not be as good as before.”
“We think these terms are more favorable than what we had on the table before,” commented Purcell. “Come to us to be partners. If you go from a direct-flow irrigation operation to a storage operation, your life will change, and I believe for the better.”
Purcell said he hopes people will participate in reservoir construction. “I think it’s a good thing because it can supply water through July and perhaps August, even though users will be held to their entitlement earlier in the year.”
“Another beauty of storage is you can always not call your water through the reservoir,” he continued. “In a good May you may not need direct-flow water, so you can store it for the benefit of all in July and August. That enhances the value of a storage reservoir and increases the amount of late season water you can all have.”
“If we’re going to develop storage projects that serve our citizens it’s got to be through a partnership and it will be state money and state work and irrigation district and water users’ hard work to get that accomplished,” concluded Purcell. “We’ve set a playing field that will at least be affordable to some. We’re trying something new because what we were doing before wasn’t working.”