Lawmakers Shrink Funding For Colorado River System Dam

Mar 8, 2018

The House last week removed the West Fork Reservoir from a bill that includes a number of water projects proposed around the state. On Wednesday, the Senate returned $10 million in funding for the dam near Baggs. Originally, state water developers asked for $40 million for the project, and estimated that it would cost twice that. 

The West Fork Reservoir would change flows into the Little Snake River, a tributary of the Colorado River.
Credit Colorado River Water Users Association

Opponents have argued the project’s suggested benefits are not enough to justify its cost, since it would only directly impact about one hundred irrigators. Bob Davis, a Carbon County Commissioner from Baggs, said that should be reason enough.

“That’s one hundred small businesses in Wyoming,” Davis said. “That’s a pretty large impact, you know? If somebody was to say, that benefits one hundred businesses in Cheyenne, or Casper, or Gillette, that makes a huge impact.” 

Harry Labonde from the Wyoming Water Development Commission, which plans state water projects, said climate change is another good reason for Wyoming to take more control over the water that flows through its borders. But the West Fork Reservoir would impact a stream that eventually flows into the Colorado River, and many conservationists worry that states in the region are too focused on storage.

“Because the river’s already in extreme threatened status,” Gary Wockner, Save the Colorado Executive Director, said. “Obviously, it’s drained dry at the bottom, climate change is predicting that flows are going to go even lower, and the Upper Basin states – Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah – are all proposing significant dams and diversions.”

For the water construction bill to pass, state lawmakers still need to reconcile House and Senate versions.