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Harry C. LaBonde, Jr., PE, Director 
6920 Yellowtail Rd, Cheyenne, WY 82002 
Phone: 307-777-7626 

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 64. PROJECT:Little Snake River Valley Dam and Reservoir (Sandstone)
SPONSOR:State of Wyoming
LOCATION:Carbon County
PROGRAM:New Development
Purpose Chapter Session Account Appropriation Due Date
Level III 79 1988 I $5,000,000* 1998
Level III 268 1989 I $5,000,000   1998
Level III 89 1993 I $20,400,000   1998
*$400,000 has been allocated by statute to the Little Snake River Basin Planning Study; therefore, the total appropriation available to the project is $30,000,000.

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 WS 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 draft supplemental geotechnical report was delivered to the WWDC. The 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 and need."

The WWDC 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 worked with representatives of the Little Snake Valley, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wyoming Department of Commerce, the USCOE, the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other cooperating agencies to address and resolve the issues previously discussed. At the request of the Savery-Little Snake River Conservancy District and an advocacy group comprised of Little Snake Valley residents, several studies were undertaken in 1996. The WWDC contracted with Burns and McDonnell to complete an analysis of the need for additional flat water recreation in the Baggs, Wyoming area. The recreation study was completed in September 1996. In addition, Burns and McDonnell completed detailed wetland delineations of the Sandstone, High Savery, Dutch Joe and Big Gulch dam sites. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department was contracted to prepare wildlife impact assessments and mitigation plans for the Dutch Joe and Sandstone Dam sites. A draft report was completed in October 1996. Additional wildlife impact assessments and mitigation plans was completed in 1997 for the High Savery Dam site. Western Water Consultants completed additional operation and yield analyses of all the sites. A conveyance loss study of lower Savery Creek and the Little Snake River was drafted by Victor Hasfurther Ph.D., University of Wyoming, Civil Engineering Department. States West Water Resources Corp. Was contracted to review the designs, operation, and projected costs of Sandstone, Dutch Joe, and High Savery dams. Additional geotechnical work was completed at the Dutch Joe water supply canal and High Savery Dam site. Further geotechnical work at the High Savery site was completed in 1997.

The studies did not improve the feasibility of the Sandstone alternative. The Corps reaffirmed that the only federal project purpose could be supplemental irrigation water supply. The Corps sees no federal need for reservoir based recreation in the area. Further, the Corps has indicated verbally and in writing that the project should provide 12,000 acre feet of water on a firm basis 8 out of 10 years. A firm 12,000 acre foot yield 10 out of 10 years had been requested by the Savery-Little Snake River Conservancy District. Sandstone is the most costly project (about $48 million). Dutch Joe is nearly $10 million less. And High Savery is the Least costly at about $30 million. Environmental impacts are greatest at Sandstone but appear to be significant at the Dutch Joe and High Savery sites as well. A meeting attended by representatives of the Corps, other federal agencies, several state agencies, the Governors' office, representatives from the Savery-Little Snake River Conservancy District, other representatives from Carbon County, the Wyoming Water Development Commission, the Select Water Committee, and the press, was held on November 19, 1996. The Corps representatives stated that given the data that had been presented to them, Sandstone would not be permitted. They indicted that Dutch Joe was still the least damaging project and most likely to be permitted. High Savery may be permitted if it could be shown that impacts to big game winter range at Dutch Joe were more environmentally damaging than the wetland and stream channel impacts at High Savery. A meeting was held in Baggs on December 5, 1996 and the irrigators and Little Snake Valley residents supported a motion to change the project name from "Sandstone" to the "Little Snake Water Supply Project." The work completed in 1996 resulted in a significant delay in the project.

In 1997 the project got back on track with the selection of High Savery Dam and Reservoir as the preferred alternative. The following activities were completed or well underway in 1997:

  1. Hydrology studies: Reservoir yield analysis for the High Savery Dam, operation analysis including filling and releasing scenarios, conveyance loss determination, depletion analysis, stream and reservoir temperature modeling, and peak flow analysis were completed. geotechnical, engineering, and environmental analyses of High Savery Dam and Reservoir.

  2. Dam designs and cost estimates: Designs and costs of all the reservoir alternatives were reviewed and revised. A more detailed geotechnical evaluation of High Savery Dam was completed. Surveying and mapping of the dam site was completed.

  3. The Game and Fish Department completed mitigation reports for all the reasonable alternatives (Dutch Joe, High Savery, and Sandstone).

  4. Wetland delineation of the 22,000 AF High Savery Dam was completed.

  5. Potential mitigation areas were identified.

  6. A water rights filing was made for the proposed High Savery Reservoir.

  7. A draft Biological Opinion is being prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

  8. A draft Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act report is being prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

  9. An property appraisal of Sandstone Ranches was completed by Hall-Widdoss & Co., Inc. to determine the financial impact of The High Savery Dam on the largest land owner.

  10. Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of the draft EIS have been revised. A draft EIS is expected to be released for public review in the spring of 1998.

Legislation has been proposed to extend the project completion date.

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