- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Faced with rising demand from states downstream, Wyoming officials are pushing to expand reservoir storage to capture more water for use within state borders.

Gov. Matt Mead early this year released a water strategy that calls for developing better information about state water resources while undertaking construction of 10 new reservoir projects over the next 10 years.

Wyoming holds the headwaters of several rivers that flow into other states, including the Green River, a major tributary to the Colorado River. A massive drought is gripping the American Southwest, causing water shortages in California and other states that rely heavily on the Colorado River.

Some of the biggest water storage projects under consideration by the Wyoming Water Development Commission would increase water storage on tributaries of the Green River, reducing flows on the Colorado River.

Nephi Cole, water policy adviser to Mead, said Tuesday the situation on the Colorado River system increases the urgency for Wyoming to put its share of water to use.

“It’s extremely important,” Cole said. “Water’s always extremely important because it doesn’t wait for people. It’s here today, and it literally is gone tomorrow in every case - no matter what the weather might be in a given year. So we view it as a very high priority to work on these projects and to address some of these challenges.”

Cole said he and other state officials were planning to meet Tuesday to go over schedules, staffing and budget requirements to move quickly on the issue.

Wyoming current has over $186 million in its water accounts earmarked for project construction and maintenance. The state requires local governments pay one third of project costs, either through loans or direct funding. Cole said working out local funding often poses a significant obstacle for projects.

Jason Mead, deputy director at the Wyoming Water Development Office, said Tuesday his office hasn’t identified which particular reservoir projects will be developed under Gov. Mead’s proposal to do 10 projects in 10 years. Jason Mead is no relation to the governor.

Jason Mead said his office is constantly evaluating projects, gauging environmental concerns, local support and engineering considerations. As projects pass review, he said the office takes them to the Water Development Commission and the Legislature for final approval.

Of the pending reservoir proposals in the advanced stages of planning, three would increase storage in the following reservoirs in the Green River Basin: Big Sandy Reservoir; Middle Piney Reservoir and the West Fork of Battle Creek Reservoir.

Together, the Big Sandy, Middle Piney and Battle Creek projects could increase storage in the basin by over 23,000 acre feet. One acre foot is about 325,000 gallons, or enough water to sustain roughly two average households for a year.

Sen. Gerald E. Geis, R-Worland, is chairman of the Wyoming Senate committee that considers water projects. “We don’t have much water left in the Green, so we’ve got to develop as fast as we can to protect what we do have left,” he said Tuesday.

Geis said it’s critical for the state government to inform the public about the importance of water projects. “Water’s gold,” he said. “Without water, you can’t do anything.”

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