The original Sandstone project proposed to impound 52,000 acre-feet of
water with a 200 foot high dam as a state investment. The facility
would have provided immediate benefits in the form of supplemental
municipal and agricultural water, recreation, and flood control. Future
benefits would have included water for industrial purposes and
hydropower. The estimated cost of the project was $70,000,000.
In 1979, the legislature enacted W.S. 41-2-204, which defined the Stage
I, II, and III Projects, as well as "in-basin needs". In 1980, the
legislature authorized the Stage II Project and, in the same
legislation, instructed the Commission to study the feasibility of
constructing in the Little Snake River drainage, above the confluence of
the river and Savery Creek, a reservoir of at least 3,000 acre feet,
noting that the reservoir shall satisfy immediate in-basin agricultural,
recreational, and municipal needs and shall promote in-basin water
purity. In 1983, the legislature included a provision in the criteria
for water development projects, which specified that a project involving
a trans-basin diversion shall address the impact of the diversion and
recommend measures to mitigate any impact identified in the basin of
origin. Subsequent session laws identified the Sandstone Dam as the in-
basin component of the Stage III Project.
In 1987, the WWDC requested construction funding for the Sandstone Dam.
The legislature denied the request. However, in 1988 and 1989, the
legislature appropriated $5,000,000 each year toward the construction of
the Sandstone Dam.
In 1988, a draft environmental impact statement and biological
assessment was prepared. In 1989 and 1990, work continued toward
meeting the National Environmental Policy Act requirements and acquiring
the required 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USCOE).
On December 14, 1990, the WWDC received a letter from Colonel Donald E.
Hazen, District Engineer for the USCOE, advising that it was his
recommendation that the 404 permit be denied for the Sandstone Project
as there is no specific use for 20,000 acre feet of the project yield.
In cases that the District Engineer and the Governor of the state
disagree on the disposition of a permit, the permitting decision is
elevated to the Missouri River Division Engineer. As Governor Sullivan
requested that the permit be issued, the Sandstone Project was reviewed
by the Division Engineer. In 1991, the WWDC was notified that the
Division Engineer upheld the District Engineer's recommendation.
Therefore, the 404 permit was denied for the 52,000 acre-foot Sandstone
Reservoir. However, the USCOE noted that it would be prepared to reopen
consideration of the application in the event that the ultimate use of
the reservoir yield could be clearly defined.
In 1992, the Little Snake River Basin Planning Study was completed. One
of the tasks of the study was to evaluate several reservoir sites to
determine if it was feasible to construct a small dam capable of meeting
the supplemental irrigation water needs in the Little Snake River Basin.
At the request of the Little Snake Water Conservancy District, a down-
sized version of the Sandstone Dam was included among the alternatives.
The Commission recommended construction funding for a Sandstone
Reservoir with a capacity of 23,000 acre feet that would yield 12,000
acre feet per year. Legislation was approved during the 1993 session to
provide $30,000,000 for a Level III project. The project purpose is to
serve as an agricultural, municipal and domestic water supply, as well
as recreation, environmental enhancement, and mitigation for the Stage
I, II, III trans-basin diversion water supply projects.
In 1993, additional mapping of the reservoir site was completed,
additional hydrology analyses were performed, and supplemental geotechnical
investigations were undertaken. The geotechnical investigations
involved drilling of two more exploratory holes to test foundation
strength and determine the suitability of the site to bear the weight of
a roller compacted concrete (RCC) dam. The Level I designs were also
reviewed and the cost estimates checked for accuracy. In addition,
additional borrow area investigations were completed to determine the
suitability and quantity of aggregate for the RCC mix. In late 1993, a
report concluded that the construction of a RCC dam at the Sandstone
site was technically feasible.
In 1994, the WWDC began the process of obtaining federal permits to
enable the construction of the smaller Sandstone project. The WWDC
entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USCOE)
and a contract with Burns and McDonnell to complete a third party
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS, as required by the
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is being prepared. In
addition, a biological opinion and Section 7 consultation, required by
the Endangered Species Act, must be completed. The U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers must issue a 404 permit, the U.S. EPA oversees the 404 permit
program and NEPA, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will prepare
the biological opinion.
In January, 1995, the USCOE advised that a 404 permit could be issued
only for the "least environmentally damaging alternative." During the
summer of 1995, the USCOE indicated that the "least damaging practicable
alternative" was a combination of two alternative reservoirs (Dutch Joe
and Big Gulch), and therefore, a 404 permit may not be issued for the
Sandstone project. The federal government (USCOE) had narrowly defined
the federal "purpose and need" for the project as "supplemental late
season irrigation water supply." This conflicted with the Wyoming
legislation that authorized the project and stipulated "recreation,
environmental enhancement, municipal water supply, supplemental
irrigation, and mitigation for past and future trans-basin water
projects" as legitimate purposes. The Dutch Joe/Big Gulch alternative
would not provide as many recreation benefits as the Sandstone project.
In August, 1995, the WWDC and Select Water Committee were briefed on
the status of the EIS, toured the alternatives, and concluded that they
would consider alternatives to the Sandstone Project if there was a
clear consensus of support in the Little Snake Valley for that
alternative. Public meetings were held in the Little Snake Valley in
August, October and December, 1995 for the purposes of discussing
project alternatives. It was apparent that a majority of those
attending the meetings preferred the construction of Sandstone Dam. The
majority believed that Sandstone would provide more multiple use
benefits than the other alternatives and disagreed with the Corps
decision not to include other project purposes in the federal "purpose
The WWDC has supported the position expressed by a majority of the
Little Snake valley residents and has directed the WWDC staff to further
pursue changing the "purpose and need" section of the DEIS to include
the state project purposes, particularly recreation. The lack of
agreement on this issue has resulted in an unforeseeable and unavoidable
delay in completing the project. In 1996, the WWDC staff will work with
representatives of the Little Snake Valley, the Wyoming Game and Fish
Department, the Department of Commerce, the USCOE, the U.S. EPA, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other cooperating agencies to
address and resolve these issues. Hopefully, the DEIS will be completed
RECOMMENDED LEGISLATIVE ACTION:
No legislative action is required on this project.