Wyoming moved to expedite the construction of a 280-foot-high concrete dam in the Medicine Bow National Forest last month by proposing a 6,282-acre land exchange.

The state wants 1,762 acres of federal property for a dam and reservoir on the West Fork of Battle Creek in the Sierra Madre Mountains, according to a Nov. 30 letter and map from Jenifer Scoggin, the director of Wyoming’s Office of State Lands and Investments. In exchange, Wyoming would transfer ownership of up to 4,520 acres of state school trust lands to the federal government. That school trust land lies inside the boundaries of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.

The Medicine-Bow announced the application in a press release setting three public meetings that will be held on the evenings of Jan. 10, 11 and 12 in Craig, Colorado, Baggs and Saratoga respectively. The dam would be built on a tributary of the Little Snake River that flows into the Yampa, Green and Colorado Rivers.

“Conveying this parcel out of Federal ownership would eliminate the need for a USFS special use permit for the reservoir as well as provide for efficient management of the reservoir and surrounding lands,” states the 19-page notice of intent and proposal, which Scoggin sent to Brush Creek/Hayden District Ranger Jason Armbruster in Saratoga. Wyoming needs the federal property to construct the reservoir and meet “fiduciary obligations to produce income to support public schools and other state institutions,” the letter reads.

WyoFile obtained a copy of Scoggin’s letter, the proposal and map Tuesday from deputy director Jason Crowder.

The state Board of Land Commissioners last summer conceptually approved investigating a land exchange that would have covered some 24,000 acres. That approval allowed state officials to offer a smaller exchange in an effort to accelerate the West Fork Dam and reservoir project, Crowder said.

Smaller would be faster

“[T]he reality of getting something like that [larger exchange] done isn’t all that hot,” Crowder said. The Forest Service would have to examine a larger exchange through the National Environmental Policy Act process, which would take considerably longer than what’s being proposed, he said.

“Something that large isn’t anything that could get done in a timely fashion,” Crowder said. “It’s probable that a larger exchange … wouldn’t be feasible or successful in the near term.”

Instead, an exchange “that was more narrowly focused [on the land] needed for the reservoir construction and implementation would be OK,” he said.

Instead of writing an environmental impact statement that’s common for major proposals under NEPA, the Forest Service will instead conduct a “feasibility analysis/study,” Medicine Bow officials said in a statement. “The resulting product is referred to as a Public Interest Determination,” that would approve or reject the exchange, the Forest Service news release states.

“It is important to note that the Forest Service has not yet determined if this is a feasible exchange, nor has the agency agreed to initiate it.”

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest

The Forest Service study will focus on the future use and management of the lands and the effect of the exchange on the lands that adjoin them, the Medicine Bow release said.

Estimated in 2017 to cost $80 million, the proposed West Fork Reservoir would serve 67 to 100 irrigators. A 130-acre reservoir would hold 10,000 acre feet of water primarily for irrigation. The project is sponsored by: Savery-Little Snake Conservancy District and Pothook Conservancy in Colorado, the Forest Service said.

The proposed reservoir would impound and divert water from the troubled Colorado River Basin where residents in seven states and Mexico are at odds over how to use dwindling flows.

“It is important to note that the Forest Service has not yet determined if this is a feasible exchange, nor has the agency agreed to initiate it,” the Medicine Bow statement reads.

The Jan. 10 meeting in Craig will be from 5-7 p.m. at Colorado Northwest Community College. A virtual option will be available through the Forest Service website.

The meeting Jan. 11 in Baggs will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Valley Community Center. The Saratoga meeting the following day will be from 5:30-7:30 at the Platte Valley Community Center.Land exchange proposal details will be available the week of the public meetings on the Forest’s project website, the Medicine Bow announcement stated.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Thank you Angus for another great article. Seems like Dam proposals are very popular these days, but dam and divert is old school and does not SOLVE the long-term problem of water shortage. Dams are expensive and change ecosystems. Here in CO we are going forward with Glade reservoir NW of Fort collins. It diverts the Poudre River so it will be gone here in FC. Glade reservoir will be bigger than Horsetooth and cost $700Million. Bottom line — CO and WY citizens must ask smart and direct questions to our representatives about water conservation efforts that have been tried before we commit to potential environmental and financial disasters.

  2. If it looks like a pig, wallows in the mud like a pig, and smells like a pig, then it is a pig. This is pork and it stinks. And all that talk about the river compact, or benefits to recreation or habitat…that’s just the lipstick they’re painting on this swine. Let’s stop building bridges to nowhere, or in this case dams for nobody. The school kids of Wyoming deserve better than to be swindled by water hogs.

  3. I have a few questions: How is the state trust land currently being used and how many dollars annually is it currently generating? Are there currently timber sales on the swap forest property? If irrigators benefiting from this dam are also lands in Colorado, how much money is Colorado contributing to this dam project and it’s management? Please take a look at the many studies the Wyoming legislature has undertaken concerning this dam and closely look at the recommendations and water funds already made and spent. Also, take a look at the location of this dam on a topographic map. The proposed road from the forest road will be extremely steep and very difficult for access other than 4wheel or ATV vehicles, limiting recreational access. There also appears to be no room for a campground or even a dock. Who will maintain the access? Is this proposal moving forward at this time with not only reelected Senator Hicks, working for the Little Snake River Conservation District, but the addition of newly elected Representative Bob Davis also of Baggs and treasurer of the Little Snake River Conservation District and both serving on their respective committees overseeing this proposal? Could this proposal be a conflict of interest for these two legislators? With so many other state water project proposals, does this one make any fiscal sense for Wyoming?

  4. How can a new dam be built when downriver dams are slated to run out of water to provide power and drinking water for southwest USA!!!??

  5. At a cost per irrigator of $800,000 -$1,194,000 this seems like a criminal waste of public money, just to grow really expensive hay. Why not buy the irrigated ranchland and convert it to winter range for elk or other wildlife?

  6. I believe that it is imperative for the state to build dams on both sides of the divide. Not only for irrigation for crops but to provide additional recreation sites to decrease access travel time, to save on fuel usage. Living along the Big Horn River, we see a good amount of unused water flowing into it from the many creeks fed by the Big Horn Mountains, eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

    1. I have read reports that nothing from the Colorado River flows into gulf of Mexico. And that the USA was required to build a desalination plant on the border to provide Mexicans water.

  7. Does WyoFile have a compensation fund for those suffering cognitive whiplash from their reporting? Here we have back-to-back articles on paying folks not to irrigate in the Colorado River Basin (Green River tributary) and on appropriating money to increase irrigation in the Colorado River Basin (Little Snake River tributary). Can someone explain please?

  8. Just a point of clarification in the article the Proposed West Fork Project does not “divert water from the Trouble Colorado River Basin” as stated in this article. The project is an on-channel reservoir which will store water for use in the Colorado River Basin. Other uses for the water include recreation and environmental enhancements for sustaining wetlands, riparian habitat, and sensitive fish species in the Little Snake River Basin.

  9. A project that will be on public lands…or formerly public lands, needs to have benefits to more than just 67 irrigators if they want the public to support it. I’m anxious to see what the the benefits are for fish and wildlife.

  10. It looks as if the “State” has decided that they need to hurry up and “impound and divert water from the troubled Colorado River Basin where residents in seven states and Mexico are at odds over how to use dwindling flows.” They are proposing a smaller land exchange because “Smaller would be faster”. This smaller land exchange only involves 4520 acres of Wyoming school trust property. Even at a low ball appraisal of $10,000 per acre (it is in the National Forest for pete’s sake) that comes to $45,200,000 worth of land. Add that onto the 2017 estimated cost of $80,000,000 for the construction of the dam and the “State” is proposing to spend $125,200,000 to benefit 80 to 100 irrigators. That is quite an investment. Even if the “State” taxes all the hay production in the Little Snake river valley, how long will it take to meet “fiduciary obligations to produce income to support public schools and other state institutions,” ?? The amazing thing is that the “State doesn’t seem too enthused about financing schools as it is but they don’t even bat an eye at spending $1 million dollars to support each irrigator down stream from this dam?? I would like to see a list of the 80 to 100 irrigators that would benefit. This whole debacle would just disappear if the irrigators had to pony up a 20% match just as every other entity in the state does when receiving grants.

    What a tremendous waste of time, money and resources.

  11. What are the ramifications of taking Colorado River water before it reaches the Colorado River? Seems that Wyoming is trying to ‘steal’ walker from the other states as opposed to working together to limit water use.

  12. The proposed dam will only benefit a small group of ranchers located near Savery, Dixon, Baggs and Colorado . The state spent $38 million on the High Savey Dam for this group of ranchers to mitigate the water the city of Cheyenne took from the Little Snake River to add an additional water supply to the city. The state spends $75K – $100K on average annually to maintain this dam. The irrigators pay and annual fee per acre of water used, but it does not cover the annual cost of maintenance. Now these area ranchers are wanting another dam built using tax payers money, really! Senator Hicks is from this area and is using his authority in the State Legislature to push this project along to help his handful of constituents (ranchers) in the Baggs area. This is a conflict of interest. The dam will not be cost effective. The several million dollar price tag for the dam construction and the cost to maintain this dam over the years, divided by the people it will benefit is in the hundreds of thousands per person, this is preposterous! The primary use for the water would be for irrigating hay fields. Do these small populated communities in the Baggs area need (two) dams? Wake up people, it sounds like Senator Hicks has the Director of Wyoming’s Office of State Land’s, Jennifer Scoggin pressured into the land swap deal for a project that’s too cost obsorbent for the benefits is will reap. These dams don’t stay full of water during droughts, they fill when there’s and excess of snowpack in the mountain drainages supplying them.

  13. A handful of ag producers pulling themselves up by their bootstraps with tens of millions in public money. Inspirational.

  14. It is not factual that the proposed reservoir would “divert water from the troubled Colorado River Basin.” It is not a diversion. It would in fact store water in the Basin for the benefit of Wyoming’s rights on the River.

  15. this is good news for wyoming.
    of course nothing is for certain but with this proposal,
    wyoming would be harvesting water that is rightfully belonging to wyoming.
    of course the the flip side is the federal government could reject the proposal.