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
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:
- 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.
- 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
- The Game and Fish Department completed mitigation reports for
all the reasonable alternatives (Dutch Joe, High Savery, and
- Wetland delineation of the 22,000 AF High Savery Dam was
- Potential mitigation areas were identified.
- A water rights filing was made for the proposed High Savery
- A draft Biological Opinion is being prepared by the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
RECOMMENDED LEGISLATIVE ACTION:
Legislation has been proposed to extend the project completion date.