Mead seeks comments on Wyo water strategy
Casper – Over the past month, representatives from the Wyoming Governor’s Office have travelled across the state gathering input on Wyoming’s emerging energy strategy.
“To a large degree, what brings us here today is the water strategy,” said Policy Analyst Nephi Cole during the Dec. 5 Wyoming Water Strategy meeting in Casper. “The further development of a water strategy was identified by 97-plus percent of the respondents of the energy strategy as being an extremely high priority.”
Regardless of interest group or background, Cole noted that the overwhelming support for a water strategy was so prominent, Initiative 9D was introduced as part of the energy strategy, requiring the development of a similar approach for water management.
A series of public meetings has been held around the state, with the last meeting to be held in Torrington on Dec. 19.
“At each of these meetings, we catalogue what people are saying to take public comment for incorporation into our documents,” added Cole. “We are intending to get people thinking about the issues and challenges with water in the state.”
Cole cited Luna Leopold, son of Sand County Almanac author Aldo Leopold, during the presentation.
Leopold said, “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and of our children’s’ lifetimes.”
“Leopold’s comment is very telling,” Cole noted. “Water is a critical issue for those of us in the state of Wyoming, and it probably will be forever.”
In Wyoming, Cole remarked that about 17 million acre-feet, or over 5.5 trillion gallons, of water flow in streams and rivers.
“We are very much the headwaters of the nation,” he said. “In a few small cases, water comes through our borders before going somewhere else, but for the most part, it starts here.”
Wyoming has the right to put 3.5 million acre-feet of water to beneficial use, or uses that improve and benefit the state of Wyoming.
“There are other issues in the state with water aside from quantity,” Cole continued, mentioning a number of guidelines for addressing water quality.
The Clean Water Act, for instance, requires Wyoming to assess all waters in the state every two years under the 305(b) rule.
“That report evaluates streams on whether they are meeting their designated use,” Cole explained. “Designated use is different than beneficial use.”
The designated use looks at what a water could be used for, rather than just what it is used for, and may include uses such as agriculture, recreation, wildlife or aquatic life, for example.
“If a stream does not meet its designated use and fails to live up to those standards, it is put on the 303(d) list of impaired waters,” he continued. “Some of the issues that may impair streams include fecal coliforms, selenium, sediment and others.”
From there, efforts are made to address the water’s problems, including a total maximum daily load study and implementation of best management practices.
After looking at the amount of water in the state and the quality of Wyoming water, as well as the number of agencies managing water and the plethora of uses for the resource, Cole noted that it is important to collect information from a variety of sources on water priorities.
“In creating a Wyoming Water Strategy, we don’t yet know what the critical priorities are going to be,” he said. “We are just starting our journey in creating this strategy, and we are looking to our key stakeholders to help us define those priorities.”
The strategy will be developed similarly to the Wyoming Energy Strategy, with much the same framework. At the conclusion of the development of the strategy, a list of specific, measurable and actionable initiatives will be developed.
“We’d love to talk more about how we can create positive incentives for innovative treatment and management of produced waters,” Cole said, “and we’d like to talk about the issues our stakeholders feel are important with relation to waters in Wyoming.”
Cole commented, “The key component of this strategy is that we want to be able to put some things on the ground to benefit the citizens of Wyoming for the long term.
Cole also noted that the Governor’s Office hopes to receive all initial scoping comments on the Wyoming Water Strategy by the end of 2013. For more information or to provide comments, contact the Wyoming Governor’s Office at 307-777-7437.
“If we break out our use, about 85 percent of the water we use in the state of Wyoming is surface water,” said Wyoming Governor’s Office Policy Analyst Nephi Cole, citing a survey from 2000 by the U.S. Geological Survey. “About 15 percent of the water we use is ground water.”
Agriculture is the number one user of water in the state. Other beneficial uses include mining, electricity production and public supply, as well as oil and gas use.
“Oil and gas uses a very small percentage of the water, and it gets a lot of attention,” added Cole.
The remainder of water originating in Wyoming flows to a variety of other states.
“It would be nice if we could keep that water, but there are nine compacts and decrees that determine how we have to share the water with our neighbors,” said Cole.