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Federal Grant moves Wyoming dam construction plans forward

The 280-foot high dam above Little Snake River in Wyoming has received a US$1.2 Federal Grant according to the Wyoming Water Development Commission. The funds that are expected to be matched by Wyoming will help consultants prepare federal environmental reviews. Planned for the West Fork of Battle Creek in Carbon County, the estimated US$82 million dam and 10,000-acre foot reservoir would be constructed in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. The dam on the tributary of the Little Snake River would serve 67 to 100 irrigators by providing late-season water. Irrigators are unable to finance the project, so 91% of the costs would be borne by Wyoming, formula backers say is justified because the structure would produce US$73.7 million in public benefits.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service approved a US$1.25 million grant to the Savery-Little Snake River Water Conservancy District and the neighboring Colorado Pothook Water Conservancy District to boost the project, according to federal records. The grant requires a matching contribution. The project, however, faced scrutiny and criticism in the Legislature in 2018 when backers sought US$40 million in construction funds. Lawmakers appropriated only US$4.7 million, requiring none of the money is spent until two conditions were met.

Lawmakers became wary of the dam project because of its cost, its location, and the small number of Wyoming irrigators it would serve. Critics said it would only irrigate an additional 2,000 acres or so. Water director Gebhart acknowledged the 2018 legislative caveats. “We’re being diligent to ensure that the work that we do … follows statutory limitations we may have,” he said. In addition to the US$4.7 million 2018 appropriation, the West Fork account had some US$6 million already appropriated in 2013, for a total of $10.9 million. The earlier appropriation did not include requirements for cost-sharing with Colorado or for further legislative approval.

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