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. Since 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
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.
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.
A contract was entered into with States West Water Resources Corporation 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. 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 1999:
- The Draft Environmental Impact Statement was issued in August 1998. Comments
were received and responses prepared in early 1999.
- Further work was conducted on potential mitigation areas. Detailed plans
were developed for mitigation of impacts to rangelands, riparian shrub
communities, and wetlands. Preferred sites for the mitigation were evaluated.
- A Final Biological Opinion was issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act on July 14, 1999.
- Property appraisals of Sandstone Ranches, the Lee Jons property, the Rochelle
Ranch, the McMillen property, state lands property, and Bureau of Land
Management lands was completed by Hall-Widdoss & Co., Inc. to determine the
financial impact of High Savery Dam on the surrounding land owners. These
appraisals were reviewed for completeness and accuracy by John Frome Associates.
With the activities complete, the WWDC is prepared to move forward with
land acquisition for the project.
- A contract to design High Savery Dam for $3,116,805 was awarded in August 1999
to States West Water Resources Corporation. Activities initiated under this
contract during 1999 included; detailed geotechnical investigations of the
dam site, survey and monumentation, baseline data collection mitigation
planning, and stream channel stability analysis.
- The Final Environmental Impact Statement was published in October 1999.
- Burns and McDonnell has completed the cultural resource work and report.
Because of the significance of this additional work, it will be necessary
to finalize the cultural resources evaluation. A Memorandum of Agreement
(MOA) must be negotiated between USCOE and the Wyoming State Historical
Preservation Office and WWDC. The MOA must be agreed to by all the
affected Indian tribes.
RECOMMENDED LEGISLATIVE ACTION:
No legislative action is required.