Leavitt expansion would boost late-season water availability

by nathan oster

Slowly but surely, a project that would expand Leavitt Reservoir and provide additional water late in the season for irrigators in the Shell Valley is moving forward.

The Bureau of Land Management, which is taking the lead in the preparation of an environmental impact statement on the proposed expansion of the reservoir, kicked off that process with a public scoping meeting Oct. 26 at Shell Hall.

No formal presentation was made, but maps and handouts gave the approximately 100 people who attended a glimpse of what their futures might look like as early as 2022.

In general, they liked what they saw.

“I think it’ll be a great benefit to us,” said Brad Cochran.

The proposed pipeline would go right through his property, which he described as a hay farm.

“We are short of water all the time once that reservoir goes dry,” he said. “The last couple of years, by the middle of July we’ve been in trouble.

“We always get by, but we could sure use more water.”

Cochran’s sentiments were echoed by several others that night.

Earlier this year, during their 2017 session, lawmakers earmarked $41 million for the Leavitt Reservoir expansion project.

The reservoir currently impounds 643 acre-feet of water and covers 45 acres. The enlarged reservoir would impound 6,604 acre-feet. It would grow in size to 203 surface acres.

The enlarged reservoir would primarily be used to supply irrigated lands in the Beaver Creek and Shell Creek drainages with supplemental late season irrigation supply to reduce drought vulnerability and improve reliability, according to the BLM.

It would also include a 1,500-acre foot environmental/recreation pool, which would sustain a year-round population of fish. Non-motorized boating would also be a possible recreational use of the reservoir.

The key elements to the project, according to the BLM, are as follows:

  • New 1,800-foot-long earthen dam embankment with a maximum height of 80 feet and a crest width of 21 feet.
  • New 20-foot open channel and weir-type concrete crest auxiliary spillway and a stilling pool for discharge below the existing dam.
  • Gated structure, a pipeline, an access tunnel, a control building, and a stilling pool for discharge below the existing dam.
  • 2-mile buried 42-inch pipeline fed by a diversion on Beaver Creek, the proposed water source
  • 3-mile long, buried transfer pipeline located on non-federal lands approximately 6 miles downstream from the reservoir outlet, to convey water released from the reservoir.
  • Recreational facilities, including boat ramp, picnic facilities, restroom/trash facilities, parking area and access roads.
  • Reconstruction of an approximately half-mile section of Bear Creek Road to raise the grade of the roadbed.
  • Construction borrow areas, support facilities and staging areas.
  • Power transmission corridor and electrical tie-in facilities.

The EIS will look at the potential impact on water quality, riparian areas, and wetlands; cultural resources; paleontological resources; and wildlife and fisheries.

Residents have until the end of the day on Monday, Nov. 13 to submit written comments by email to blm_wy_cody_comments@blm.gov, or by mail to BLM, Cody Field Office; Attn: AFM Minerals and Lands- Leavitt Reservoir EIS, 1002 Blackburn St., Cody, WY 82414.



Jason Mead of the Wyoming Water Development Commission said an expansion of the Alkalai Creek Reservoir, in the Worland area, is running concurrently with the Leavitt Reservoir expansion project.

He said both projects were part of Gov. Matt Mead’s Wyoming water strategy, which he revealed late in 2015. The goal, Jason Mead said, was to build 10 small reservoirs in 10 years.

He said he’s optimistic that the project will clear the regulatory hurdles set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA. With a favorable decision, work could begin on the reservoir expansion in 2020.

Mead said he expects construction to take two years. So 2022 is a realistic expectation of when the project might be completed “if everything goes smoothly,” he said.

Chad Krause, an assistant field manager in the BLM’s Cody field office, said the BLM must decide whether to allow right-of-way considerations for the reservoir and water, much of which would be located on public lands.

But he noted that several other agencies are involved in the permitting as well, including but not limited to the Wyoming Water Development Commission, the state engineer’s office, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are taking the lead on the EIS, but we are one of many,” he said.

The goal is to complete the ITS within a year, he said, adding, “What that means in terms of initiation of project activities, I cannot speak to.”

Krause said the comments he received at the scoping meeting were generally positive.

Quint Noyes, who serves on the board of the Shell Canal Company, was among the supporters, saying the late-season irrigation water is badly needed.

“We are usually regulated down by the middle of July, first part of August,” he said. “And at that time, people still have crops they need to finish out, whether they are raising barley, oats or corn.

“Plus there are guys with alfalfa that need another good watering to get their crops up. A lot of times, we don’t have much more than a trickle that time of time of year.

“So I definitely think it’ll benefit everyone in the fall, but at the same time, it’ll likely also depend on how much of the water you can afford.”