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
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
to provide recreation opportunities, 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 analysis 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 with Burns and McDonnell, scientists and engineering consultants, 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 were completed in 1997 for the High Savery Dam
site. Western Water Consultants completed additional operation and yield analysis 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 Governor's 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 indicated 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.
During 1999, the environmental impact statement was completed and land acquisition was initiated.
States West Water Resources Corporation was hired to begin design of the dam and associated
facilities, including the mitigation plan. Work on significant cultural resources issues continued.
The following activities were completed or were well underway in 2000:
- The process for obtaining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clean Water Act Section 404
permit continued and was completed late in December 2000. The final paper work will be
completed in January 2001.
- Detailed plans were developed for mitigation of impacts to rangelands, riparian shrub
communities, and wetlands. Preferred sites for the mitigation were selected.
- Purchases of property for the dam, reservoir, facilities and mitigation were initiated.
- Design data were collected during the year for the dam and facilities and for the mitigation
by the States West team. The Designs should be completed in early 2001. The site has
proved to be more complex the originally thought and this will increase the cost for
construction to some degree.
- Work on state and federal rights-of-way and easements for the dam and facilities and for
the mitigation has begun and should be completed in early 2001.
- Work on significant cultural resources continued during 2000. A programmatic agreement
was developed between the corps, WWDC, and the Wyoming State Historic Preservation
Office to assure continued protection of cultural resources in the area of the project.
RECOMMENDED LEGISLATIVE ACTION:
The State of Wyoming has appropriated $30,000,000 for the costs of studies, permitting, easements,
land acquisition, geotechnical investigations, design and construction of the High Savery Dam.
Ongoing permitting, land purchases, design and construction costs have been projected to exceed
present financing by about $3,800,000. The WWDC recommends that a supplemental amount of
$3,800,000 be appropriated to this project so that there is certainty of having sufficient funds to
award bids and commence construction in the early summer of 2001. The WWDC also
recommends that the reversion date be extended from 2001 to 2005 to allow time to construct the
dam and reservoir.