At the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, the Wyoming House and Senate resolved two water project bills, ultimately agreeing to fund the West Fork Reservoir. The original legislation would have allocated $40 million, but the House eliminated the project completely. The Senate later resurrected it with $10 million in funding, and eventually, lawmakers reached a compromise of $4.7 million.
Proponents say the dam project will benefit irrigators, recreationists, and cutthroat trout. They also say it could be designed to help remediate copper pollution from an abandoned mine upstream.
The original proposal would have taken a big chunk from the account that funds dams and reservoirs, which has over $50 million available in reserves. Some legislators weren't convinced that the benefits were worth the higher cost to the state. They decided to save those funds but provide some money to get the project started.
Carbon County Commissioner Bob Davis supports the dam. He said the money approved by the legislature will go toward acquiring land currently owned by the Forest Service. It’s still unclear how much the land will cost.
“We haven’t even identified the parcel of the land that the Forest Service is interested in looking at,” Davis said. “Right now we’re in the scoping process. But we have a commitment from Wyoming that allows us to go forth with this.”
Davis said this money will make it easier to ask Colorado to chip in for the project. Irrigators there would likely benefit as water flowed from the reservoir late in the summer.
“With this type of funding we’ll be able to start to talk to the Colorado side and hopefully be able to use their expertise to joint venture here on the West Fork of Battle Creek,” Davis said.
Battle Creek is a tributary of the Yampa River, which flows into the Colorado River. That has some people worried this dam would put a strain on the Colorado, which they argue is already under stress and facing several proposed dams in Upper Basin states.