Volume 105, Number 1 - January 3, 2008
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Green River dam debate resurfaces
Although half a century of debate has never led to an agreement to dam the Upper Green River, the idea will filter yet again through the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) at a meeting on Jan. 9 in Casper, said Commission Director Mike Purcell.
The meeting will include a discussion to determine if the commissioners will hold a public hearing over building the dam, which would sit between the Warren and Kendall bridges.
While some have said the resulting reservoir would preserve water in the midst of ever-increasing demand, others have argued that the project’s hefty price and potential environmental impacts outweigh any benefits. “The project has a lot of issues, that will be a part of the discussion,” Purcell said. “At the last commission meeting, the decision was that before we went any further on this, we wanted to find out what the public thought, and there is the reason we’re discussing the public hearing.”
The decision on whether to hold the hearing will depend on the commissioners’ interest in the dam, Purcell said. He couldn’t speak for the other commissioners’ opinions, and he declined to say whether he supported the project or not.
Damming the river would provide irrigation water for about 71,000 acres, but would prove no easy endeavor, Purcell said. The project would cost between $250 and $400 million, a far cry from the commission’s current budget, and dispersing the water to surrounding landowners would entail constructing 135 miles of canals, and 10 to 15,000 feet of tunnels.
Two reservoir sites have been considered, one that would flood about 9,500 acres, and another that would cover 1,100 acres.
“It’s a big project,” Purcell said.
A reservoir could potentially harm instream flow and wetlands in the area, according to a commission report released in September. The report further predicted that in lieu of the price and extensive construction, the project wouldn’t likely receive a federal construction permit.
Past considerations of the dam have also been rejected by the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal environmental protection agency, because flooding and construction could harm the wildlife and scenery that attracts many tourists and sustains a number of outfitting businesses in the region.
Yet the idea has been reviewed repeatedly throughout the past 50 years.
“Water projects never die,” Purcell said. “If there’s water, people come back and revisit it for years upon years.”
This time around, commissioner Dan Budd, representing Sublette County, is demanding to reconsider the proposition.
“We need the reservoir so we can protect Wyoming sportsmen’s river water,” Budd said. “Water’s our future. Without it, you’ve got nothing.”
Budd predicted that with the increasing demand on Colorado River water, it would only be a matter of years before California, Nevada and Arizona, known as the Lower Colorado River Basin states, ask for water from the Green River.
The reservoir would store Green River water for Wyoming’s use only.
“A lot of (Green River landowners) are in favor of damming, because in the agricultural community, the minute that the Lower Basin puts a call on the river and (local landowners) start getting regulated, they get cut back to their entitlement and they’ve got some real problems,” Budd said.
A reservoir would also allow more fishing and recreation, he said, and would preserve water for future generations.
Landowners residing by the river who were contacted said they didn’t know enough about the project to comment. John Andrikopoulos, Sublette County representative on the Upper Green River Basin Joint Powers Waters Board, said that the majority of the board has voted that the project shouldn’t be pursued.
“There are large private property issues regarding that kind of a project, and the cost of that project is very, very high,” Andrikopoulos said. “It’s all about do-ability, feasibility.”
The board is currently analyzing several possible sites in the Wyoming Range for “off-channel” water storage, where damming wouldn’t impound year-round streams or tributaries. Andrikopoulos couldn’t predict when the board would make decisions on these projects, however.
Andrikopoulos also agreed with the state report and said that obtaining a permit would be “formidable and extremely difficult.” But Budd refuses to believe that’s true.
“They’re permitting (projects like this) everywhere else,” he said.
Budd said he’s confident that the WWDC commissioners are interested in holding the public hearing, based on conversations he’s held with them.
“Anybody who understands water and the future of Wyoming and is interested in preserving recreational opportunities on the river certainly shouldn’t oppose storage,” he said.
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