Joint Ag Committee moves bills forward
Lusk – During the Sept. 23-24 meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee (Joint Ag), committee members decided to move forward a number of bills related to water, livestock and state lands.
Three water bills were discussed by the committee dealing with water well permits, groundwater contested cases and well completion.
Water well permits
Wyoming Statute 41-3-930 looks at permitting multiple wells within a defined geographic location utilized for a common purpose.
“The new language in the bill says the state engineer may authorize the construction and use of multiple wells with a single permit if the groundwater is being used for a common purpose or in a limited geographic area from a single supply,” explained Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell.
Industrial facilities, such as uranium mines, may have a number of wells in the same area that are utilized for the same purpose.
“The poster child is uranium,” he said. “In their in situ process, they will develop a quarter section, and they may permit dozens to a couple of hundred of holes in the ground.”
Tyrell noted that often, there is no net use of water that results.
“In the interest of streamlining their operations and our own, because it is very cumbersome to handle 200 permits, we have the ability to tap into a single permit,” he said, explaining the bill’s intent.
With some ambiguity as far as what defined a “limited geographic area” and “common purpose,” legislators looked for clarification.
Because the State Engineer’s Office (SEO) does have rulemaking authority, Tyrell noted that they have the ability to further define both terms.
Additional concerns were raised about who would be eligible to apply for multiple wells under one permit.
“I think we need to tighten this language up, since the intent is for industrial use,” said Senator Larry Hicks.
Resulting amendments to address concerns including addition of language to ensure multiple wells could be permitted under a single permit for industrial uses for in situ mining and dewatering only.
Other amendments changed common purpose to single purpose, further clarifying what qualifies for the permitting changes.
Additionally, “limited geographic area” was defined as “within the Department of Environmental Quality permit boundary.”
The bill passed and will be sponsored by the Joint Ag committee during the 2014 legislative session.
The next bill addressed groundwater contested cases and how they are handled by the State Engineer’s Office.
Tyrrell commented, “The intent is not to change the meaning or what happens under this statute but to clarify it.”
Following confusion about how to handle contested cases in the SEO, a bill was drafted to more clearly define the intent and procedures laid out in the statute.
Additionally, he noted that some of the procedures lined out could give the State Board of Control the power to hear contested cases and then also rule on an appeal, which would be ineffective.
“The first hearing should be in front of the state engineer, and it might be appealed to the Board of Control,” Tyrrell said of changes.
Additionally, amendments were made in the bill to ensure the hearing would be a public hearing, allowing discussion by petitioners and objectors.
Section (b) of the statute also saw changes, including requirements to post the announcement of a public hearing when the state engineer feels that an application or petition filed in the SEO may be detrimental to the public interest.
“Clarity has always been important in these statutes,” said Tyrrell, noting that the bill seeks to clarify points that have caused concern to the SEO.
Ultimately, the committee made amendments to further clarify the bill and passed it on as a committee-sponsored bill for the next legislative session.
Water well completion was also a topic of concern for the SEO.
“This bill is pretty simple,” Tyrrell explained. “It has to do with when a well is considered complete.”
Current statutes say a well is complete when it is possible to install a pump in the well. However, the completion form required by the SEO requires information about the pump in the well, including pumping levels and rates.
“This presents a tremendous amount of problems,” commented Hicks. “The law says we don’t have to submit the information about the pump, it just requires that the well is completed. Are we going to change the law so it reflects the form? It is my preference that we change the form through the SEO to fit the law.”
The committee agreed with Hicks and failed the bill.
A final bill proposal looked to increase the fees assessed to well drillers to raise additional funds for the Board of Control.
While the fee would not be passed on to permittees, it would impose higher costs on the registered professionals in the well drilling instillation realm.
“With numbers going down, our problem is that funds go down,” explained Tyrrell.
The intake of funds from year to year ranges widely and creates uncertainty within the office.
However, legislators also decided to not move the bill forward.