The dual pressures of climate change and ever-increasing demand for water has brought a new sense of urgency to a decades-old idea: to dam the Green River just upstream of the Warren Bridge in Sublette County, close to its glacial source.

But the idea still faces decades-old challenges. Studies by the Wyoming Water Development Office staff indicate that the cost of the project – which includes new and improved canal systems over difficult terrain – outweigh the economic benefits for the irrigators.

It is this analysis, according to the agency, that makes it highly unlikely the dam and irrigation proposal would meet the “purpose and need” criteria under the federal Clean Water Act.

“Building a reservoir is a wonderful thing. … We need storage, we need customers, but we don’t need this project,” Wyoming Water Development Commission Director Mike Purcell said last week during a joint meeting of the commission and Select Water Committee in Casper.

The commission and Select Water Committee on Friday declined a request by a group of Green River Valley irrigators and county officials for $750,000 needed to collect drill-core samples and conduct other feasibility work.

Randy Bolgiano, member of the Upper Green River Irrigation board, argued in favor of the project. Bolgiano said he and his fellow irrigators are deeply troubled to see large volumes of un-appropriated water flow out of state each spring.

The proposal also faces opposition based on how the dam and reservoir might drastically alter recreation in the area. The Warren Bridge area of the Green River is a premier fishery and destination for river floaters.

“A dam there would destroy a portion of that river,” and change the downstream characteristics, said commissioner William Resor of Wilson. “From a recreation point of view, I don’t think it’s a good thing to do.”

Yet Resor said he’d still oppose the dam proposal based solely on the irrigation portion of the cost and benefit analysis.

“I don’t think it’s going to do for irrigation what we’d like it to do,” Resor said.

Supporters of the dam argue that the reservoir itself would provide additional recreational opportunities and only increase the amount of tourism dollars spent in the area. They say it would improve the fishery by moderating the downstream flow.

Preliminary designs call for a dam 1,000 feet long and 140 feet to 150 feet high located in “The Narrows” portion of the river, creating a reservoir of about 80,000 acre-feet. Local irrigators say the hydroelectric resource created by the reservoir could generate 3-21 megawatts of power.

“It would be possible to produce hydrogen for future transportation fuel cell markets and clean energy market potential,” said Al Radke of Pinedale.

Radke and other supporters say they’re not giving up. There are many other potential sources of money to launch the project, including federal stimulus funds.

Supporters believe a thorough feasibility study would convince the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of the need for the project. Sublette County irrigators say they need a reservoir far upstream from the Fontenelle Reservoir in Lincoln County.

“The riparian nature (of the Upper Green River Valley) is not sustainable, so the basin will eventually dry up,” said Bolgiano.

For more on the Green River dam proposal, check out this article “Green River Dam Up For Vote” in the Jackson Hole Daily.

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Published on November 9, 2010

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