Pinedale roundup | Water agency seeks $ 281 million for dams, domestic supply and other projects



WYOMING – In what could be one of the biggest demands on the legislature in years, state water development officials are considering $ 281 million or more to fund agricultural irrigation works, dams, reservoirs, domestic water projects and other programs.

In three days of meetings last week, lawmakers first advanced about $ 33 million in appropriations recommended by the Wyoming Water Development Office. Funded projects include a few municipal supply projects, numerous irrigation upgrades, cloud seeding, and an aging infrastructure review, among others.

The Legislature’s Select Water Committee then backed a bill calling for an additional $ 95 million from the American-Rescue-Plan-Act or general funds to establish a subsidy program for water infrastructure in the statewide.

Then, in a proposal at the 11th hour, the legislative committee asked its staff to draft an amendment – or other stand-alone bill – to add an additional $ 152.8 million to the 2022 appropriation, mostly for five. major agricultural dams, reservoirs and irrigation projects.

There could be even more additions to the nearly $ 153 million amendment or the new bill.

“If people have things that they would like to include in this project, I think it would be appropriate,” Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, told Select Water Committee co-chair, Rep. Evan Simpson, R-Afton .

Wyoming has turned a corner since facing a reduced state budget due to declining tax revenues on coal and oil and gas, Hicks suggested. There is “a certain amount of money, funds available,” he said, pointing to the American Rescue Plan Act which seeks to get the country out of the COVID-19 crisis. Additional funds, perhaps from increased oil and gas activity, may also be available, he said.

All of this could be used to underpin a water development agenda that Hicks says has been unfairly plundered by the legislature.

“By the time we finish this biennium, we will have looted the water development account.[s] to the tune of about $ 55 million, ”he told lawmakers last week. In recent years, the legislature has directed funds that should have been used for water development, Hicks said, to instead fund other projects and the State Engineer’s Control Board, which resolves disputes over water rights.

The Select Water Committee’s three-pronged program would fund the $ 33 million of the Water Development Commission programs in 2022, the $ 95 million statewide infrastructure grants program would add using ARPA and general funds and would spend an additional $ 152 million on the Hicks Water Development Amendment.

Hicks’ call for $ 152 million – the biggest avenue of funding – could be added to the ARPA bill or emerge as a separate stand-alone measure, according to the committee’s discussions. It would see $ 35 million go to the Alkali Reservoir near Hyattville in Big Horn County, the cost of which has risen from $ 35 million to $ 59 million.

An additional $ 30 million would go towards the expansion of the Leavitt Reservoir, an additional $ 25 million would protect the Fontenelle Dam to increase its usable capacity, and an additional $ 21.8 million would help resolve the collapse of the Goshen Irrigation Tunnel .

The Hicks proposed amendment or stand-alone bill would also set aside $ 30 million to help rebuild the dangerous LaPrele Dam above Douglas. The proposed credit would also fund several other water development accounts with $ 11 million.

The next largest block of funds put forward by the Select Water Committee last week – $ 95 million from ARPA for a statewide infrastructure grant program – would come from Wyoming Water Development Office in coordination with two other state agencies. The State Land and Investment Bureau, which oversees funds for drinking water, and the State Environmental Quality Department, which is responsible for aspects of projects and water discharges used, would participate in the subsidies.

Grants would be limited to $ 7.5 million per project and would cover 85% of the cost of a proposal.

The funds affected by the ARPA bill, however, could be limited by warnings from this federal bailout program. The federal COVID-19 emergency relief program funds water infrastructure programs that appear to be primarily focused on drinking water and domestic and municipal wastewater programs, and not on dams, reservoirs and agricultural canals and irrigation.

ARPA funds are distributed according to a provisional rule which, in a clause, specifies that investments will be made for “projects that improve access to drinking water. [and] improve wastewater and stormwater infrastructure systems.

The third channel of financing of the Special Water Committee arose from the annual advancement of the water programs of the Water Development Bureau and the Commission, which this year totals approximately $ 33 million. These projects involve everything from new and ongoing cloud seeding and a review of its effectiveness to municipal and domestic water supply projects, irrigation and agricultural programs, and a scale-up assessment. the state of ruined infrastructure.

During meetings last week, there was little to no discussion of the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law on Monday. But earlier this year, the Select Water Committee wanted this measure to include provisions for water development in the state.

“As we start to see an infrastructure bill develop… it’s definitely something we’ve conveyed to our congressional delegation that water is a big issue in Wyoming,” Hicks said in April. , “and that we would like to see an important element in any infrastructure bill.

Although he did not approve the federal infrastructure bill, Hicks asked the Wyoming legislative staff to stay in contact with the Congressional delegation in Washington, DC, and obtain updates.

On August 10, U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis provided a public update when they voted against the Infrastructure Bill, which passed the Senate 69-30. On November 5, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney also voted against the infrastructure bill, with the measure passed in House 228-206.

To further bolster water development and prevent what the developers see as a fundraiser, Hicks and Wyoming Water Development Office Director Brandon Gebhart in April proposed an explanatory program to be presented. to “anyone wishing to listen”.

Such a presentation can “enlighten some people in the Legislature,” Gebhart said. Hicks called the planned presentation an “education” for lawmakers and said it is expected to take place in the first day or two of the 2022 legislative session. Last week’s funding proposals did not include not several other projects underway, including a proposal to build a dam on the West Fork of Battle Creek over the Little Snake River in Carbon County, and a plan to lower New Fork Lake by approximately 21 feet to provide late season irrigation. While these were not immediately included in Hick’s amendment, they are on a wishlist of $ 414 million of water infrastructure projects reviewed by WyoFile that the state assembled earlier this year. .

WyoFile is an independent, non-profit news organization focused on the people, places, and politics of Wyoming.


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