MORE DAMS: Mead proposes new reservoirs, cites concerns for future — Casper Star-Tribune #ColoradoWater

Wyoming Rivers map via Geology.com
Wyoming Rivers map via Geology.com

From the Casper Star-Tribune (Christine Peterson):

Every spring, John Joyce watches as thousands of gallons of water in the Nowood River rush by his ranch in northern Wyoming. It’s water that eventually moves into the Bighorn, Yellowstone, Missouri and Mississippi rivers before dumping into the Gulf of Mexico.

In his mind, and in the minds of other ranchers in his area, it’s wasted water that could help their fields. The answer, they believe, is a 7,500-acre-foot reservoir.

“The Nowood might run somewhere between 500 and 800 cubic feet per second, but in the spring it might run as high as 5,000 cfs, so all of that water goes to Montana,” Joyce said. “We would like to capture a little bit of it and use it ourselves.”

Joyce said the off-channel Alkali Creek Reservoir is a way to keep irrigation late into the season for farms and ranches without damming a major creek or river.

The project is one of a handful the Wyoming Water Development Commission has been studying and could be proposed by Gov. Matt Mead as part of his new water strategy to be released in January.

“We will be building reservoirs,” Mead said at a water conference in October in Casper. “New ones as well as looking at the ones we have.”

Mead argues that storing Wyoming’s water is one of the best ways to preserve the state’s resource for the future and use what is legally ours…

Wyoming sends millions of acres feet of water out of its borders every year that it could use on its fields or in its towns, said Nephi Cole, Mead’s water policy advisor. The Colorado River basin alone sends down about 200,000-acre-feet of extra water each year – roughly enough water to fill Fontenelle Reservoir.

“Water, more than anything, is tied to everything we do in the state,” Mead said. “It’s tied to everything we have done in the state, and it is going to be tied to everything we do in the future.”

In May 2013, Mead decided to do something. His staff held nine formal listening sessions across the state to gather ideas from the public on what ranchers, businessmen, conservationists and others would like to see for the future of Wyoming’s water. They came up with more than 50 ideas ranging from improved irrigation to putting a large, main-stem dam on the upper Green River northwest of Pinedale.

The state received more than 7,000 emails and 600 surveys. The results quickly narrowed some options, Cole said.

Damming the upper Green River, for example, was unpopular and didn’t rise to the top, he said.

Other ideas, including finishing Fontenelle Reservoir and changing management of Glendo Reservoir, are still being considered. So are measures to improve 100-year old irrigation infrastructure and restore stream systems.

Mead’s 10 in 10 proposal, which calls for 10 small reservoirs in 10 years, will move forward, Cole said.

“You think about what storage would do in mitigation of floods, and you think about what storage would do in mitigation of drought, and we have the ability to do that,” Mead said. “And that would include some small, medium and maybe even large reservoirs.”

Some of the projects could be expensive and controversial and take years, but the state must act now, he said.

“We’re talking about water that is Wyoming‘s water,” Mead said. “We worry what will happen long-term.”[…]

“Reservoirs are very expensive and can have obvious environmental impacts,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Off-channel reservoirs, ones that divert water from a creek or river rather than damming the entire stream, are better than mainstem projects, he said. “But they need to be evaluated in the broader cost-benefit context.”

Each reservoir comes with a price tag of between $1,000 and $10,000 per acre foot, said Jason Mead, deputy director of the Dam and Reservoir Division for the Wyoming Water Development Office. One reservoir the Water Development Office is analyzing could be about 14,500 acre feet with a cost of about $113 million.

Wyoming is not facing a water crisis, Fosburgh said. And the state should be smarter and more creative about its water management.

The Cowboy State should focus on conservation projects such as improving irrigation systems, which are both cheaper and quicker to complete, said Stoecker, the DamNation producer and co-creator.

“The beauty of storing water in the ground is there’s no evaporation loss or filling in from sediment,” Stoecker said. “It’s far less of a cost over the long term.”[…]

Developing a plan for Wyoming’s water will be controversial, Mead said, and people will disagree.

“We have to do this as a state,” he said. “As expensive as it is, it’s much more expensive in every way, not just dollars, for the state not to do it.”

Ranchers like Joyce in Manderson agree.

Water flowing through Wyoming that rightfully belongs to the Cowboy State should be used. Extra water in the late season could allow farmers and ranchers to grow more sugar beets, corn, alfalfa and grass hays and malt barley.

Most important, Joyce wants to see that water stick around instead of watching it rush downstream.

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