Wyoming lawmakers will consider spending $88 million on four major dam projects that advance Gov. Matt Mead’s plan to construct 10 water storage projects in a decade.
If approved by the Legislature, the money would build the Alkali Creek dam north of Hyattville and reconstruct the unsafe Middle Piney dam near Big Piney. State funds also would enlarge the Big Sandy Reservoir near Farson and the Upper Leavitt Reservoir north of Shell…
Omnibus water construction bill HB-86 marks the first time an account created in 2005 to divert mineral taxes for water storage would fund dam construction, Wyoming Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde said. All told, the bill calls for spending $88.1 million on the four dams. Another $8.4 million is earmarked for planning.
As a result the legislation this year would spend $96.5 million from the special “dams and reservoirs” account: Water Development Account III. That account currently holds $151.7 million.
The most expensive project, the Leavitt enlargement would cost $41 million. Thirty-nine million dollars, or 95.5 percent, will be grant money from the state, the rest a loan to irrigators. Next most expensive, the Alkali Creek dam, would cost $35 million, 94 percent of which would be a grant, $2.1 million a loan to irrigators…
The four major dam projects will benefit irrigators across 155 square miles, according to calculations made by WyoFile from Water Development Office data. The four projects will add 27,231 acre feet of storage in the Green River and Bighorn River watersheds, mostly to benefit farmers and ranchers in irrigation districts.
The projects will provide additional benefits, including flood control and wetland creation. At Alkali Creek and Leavitt Reservoir, the reservoirs will always have some water in them to hold fish. Both also would be used for recreation, including boating…
Of the four big Wyoming dam projects, the Alkali Creek dam and Leavitt Reservoir dwarf the others. Alkali Creek would be built from scratch on an intermittent stream with $32 million in state grants and $2.1 million in loans.
The project above Hyattville would see a 108-foot high dam that would be 2,600 feet long, impounding 7,994 acre-feet over 294 acres. The reservoir would use water diverted from Paint Rock and Medicine Lodge creeks, would reduce annual shortages in the Nowood drainage by 22 percent, and aid 241 landowners. Roughly half of the 294-acre lake would be on property owned by the Martin Mercer family, the rest on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.
The Upper Leavitt Reservoir would be expanded with $39 million in grant money, $1.7 million in loans. It would hold 6,604 acre-feet — 10 times the capacity of the existing pool — and cover 194 acres. The 1,800-foot long dam would divert water from Beaver Creek out of the creek channel to an upland site to serve more than 11,000 acres. The project would create 34 more acres of wetlands than now exist. A total of 210 landowning irrigators would benefit.
Big Sandy Reservoir enlargement calls for a $6.7 million grant plus a $1.6 million loan for the impoundment astride the Big Sandy River. The plan calls for the Bureau of Reclamation — the dam’s owner — to raise the dam spillway using Wyoming money. Similar arrangements have occurred in the past. The enlargement would occur in the Greater South Pass Sage Grouse Core Area where disruption of sagebrush is limited…
Big Sandy Reservoir straddles Sublette and Sweetwater county lines. Enlargement would benefit 125 irrigating landowners.
The Middle Piney reservoir was plagued with problems when constructed in 1940 on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Officials deemed the on-channel structure unsafe and landowners with rights to the stored water gave those up by 2000. “Over time, because the reservoir had seepage problems and safety of dams issues — all of those landowners gave or transferred water rights to the Forest Service,” the water development office wrote in a description. Project outlines don’t say how many or who would benefit.
The Middle Piney Reservoir would cost $12.2 million to rebuild, but the state is still resolving issues with the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Among them are the ownership of potential rights to stored water, and liability for any dam failure…
Senate File 56 for water planning proposes $14.6 million for study and enlargement at New Fork Lake Dam, among others. Of that, lawmakers will be asked to appropriate $450,000 for the New Fork project in the Wind River Range near Pinedale. The Legislature appropriated $300,000 for an initial study which has yet to be completed and released to the public.
Wyoming and the Bridger-Teton National Forest, where New Fork Lake is located, have different views about the feasibility of increasing water storage at the site. LaBonde’s office has told lawmakers the project could get the green light, but the federal government says Wyoming should look to build new storage on private rather than forest lands.
New Fork Lake was enlarged decades ago with a small dam that now needs repairs. “This project is focused specifically on adding storage,” LaBonde said. Ninety-four landowners irrigating 14,612 acres in the New Fork Irrigation District asked the state for more water and the project would make another 9,400 acre feet available
Although the initial study remains under wraps, LaBonde’s office summarized the pending investigation to lawmakers and the Wyoming Water Development Commission. Instead of raising the existing dam, the preferred option would be to permit irrigators to drain more of the natural lake the summary says. That would require construction work to lower the irrigation outlet, but would not require raising the dam…
State re-applying for forest cloud seeding permit
The Senate bill also provides funding for Wyoming to try again to get permission from the U.S. Forest Service for cloud seeding in the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre mountains. Wyoming wants to convert a controversial 10-year experimental program into an operational one.
But the Forest Service rejected a special use permit, LaBonde said. “They have a regulation that prohibits the long-term climate change or weather change in wilderness areas,” he said. “They said ‘We can’t allow the program,’” The two ranges have four congressionally-protected wilderness areas where natural forces are supposed to reign.