Extensions approved for two water storage studies in Wind River Basin

State legislators approved timeline amendments last week for two water storage studies in the Wind River Basin.

Both studies involve water rights from the Big Horn River adjudication – a decades-long process that began with “an assertion of water rights by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes,” according to the University of Wyoming.

“(Those) water rights are extremely complicated,” Wyoming Water Development Office interim director Jason Mead said last week during a joint meeting of the Wyoming Water Development Commission and the legislative Select Water Committee. “So (these projects) took more time than originally thought.”

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Big Wind

First, Mead requested a timeline extension for the Big Wind River Storage Level II Phase II Study, which began in 2017 and was originally supposed to be completed in June 2020.

The contract already has been extended once, through May 2022.

This time, Mead asked that the contract be extended through December 2023.

He noted that the study has already identified areas with water shortages along the Big Wind River.

Most of those are outside of the Wind River Indian Reservation, Mead said, specifically mentioning Riverton, LeClair and Midvale.

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However, when studying potential reservoir sites, Mead said “the ones that looked to be most applicable and easiest to permit are actually on the reservation.”

“That presents some potential complications,” he said. “We want some additional time to go talk with the potential beneficiaries downstream, as well as more with the Tribal entities, to see what that partnership could look like – if it makes sense to move forward, where the funding would come from, and things of that nature.”

There are some water shortages on the reservation, he added, but “it would appear that the majority of them can be handled by irrigation system improvements,” which may be funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Little Wind

The amendment Mead requested for the Little Wind River Storage Level II Phase II Study features a timeline extension and a $150,000 increase in costs.

The money will cover the “additional hydrologic work that had to be done” as part of the project, he said.

“(We) felt like we needed to make some changes to better represent what occurred in the Big Horn Adjudication,” Mead explained. “As a result, (some) field work … had to be postponed until additional funding could be appropriated.”

Once the field work is completed, Mead said “we can determine if we want to move forward with permitting.”

The study is now scheduled for completion in December 2023.

The original contract, from June 2017, anticipated a completion date in June 2020.

An earlier amendment already pushed that end-date back once, to May 2022.

The contract for the project indicates that Phase I “corroborated the need for additional storage in the drainage to help offset seasonal irrigation water shortages.”

“A long list of potential storage sites that have been documented throughout various previous work was screened down to a short list of alternatives that appear to be able to supply supplemental water to offset the documented shortages,” the contract states.

The full agenda for the WWDC meeting is available here.

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