Lawmakers Move Forward Dam Project On Colorado River System

Jan 23, 2018

The West Fork of Battle Creek in southern Wyoming is a tributary of the Yampa River in Colorado.
Credit Loco Steve / Flickr

Last week, lawmakers on the Select Water Committee agreed to put $40 million in their budget to build a new dam in southern Wyoming, but only if all the money for the project is identified first. The total cost of the dam is estimated at $80 million dollars.

Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde says with more droughts expected in the future, more irrigation water is needed for about 25 different ranches along the West Fork of Battle Creek in south-central Wyoming.

“When you get to August, flows are low and so the irrigation purpose of this project would be to provide these late season irrigation flows so that they could continue to irrigate and enhance their grass hay crops,” said LaBonde.

Battle Creek flows into the Yampa River in Colorado and the hope is that state would help fund the project. But Save the Colorado’s Gary Wockner says the Yampa shouldn’t be dammed.

“The Yampa River is one of the least dammed rivers in the western United States,” said Wockner. “The only undammed river in the state of Colorado. We should be protecting what we have rather than further degrading the rivers that are not already dammed.”

He says the Yampa then flows into the Colorado River and Wockner says no tributaries on it shouldn’t be dammed because the Colorado is already severely depleted.

“The Colorado River is on life support,” he said. “The lower basin states, which of course is Nevada, Arizona and California are on the verge of having what’s called shortages declared. So you’ve basically got Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are in a bit of a water war to try to build dams and reservoirs before the next person does it.”

But Water Development Office Director LaBonde said, with more droughts likely, Wyoming needs to provide for its irrigators. He said now is a good time to build dams.

“I will say also that with regards to the President’s infrastructure bills that are being proposed, there’s also potential for a component of federal funding for this project.”

LaBonde says the reservoir will also provide recreation opportunities and habitat for the imperiled Colorado cutthroat trout.

The project is one of Governor Matt Mead's 10-in-10 water projects, an effort to build ten new water storage projects in ten years. Four others around the state are also moving forward including Middle Pioneer Reservoir and an enlargement of Big Sandy Reservoir, both in Sublette County on the Green River, a main branch on the Colorado River. Also, two dam projects in the Bighorn Basin in northern Wyoming have been funded for construction costs, including Alkali Creek Dam and Levitt Reservoir.