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Water funding, records addressed with Wyo Water Assoc

Written by Christy Hemken
Casper – In an address to the Wyoming Water Association’s annual meeting in late October, Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) Director Mike Purcell said the WWDC is slowly and systematically addressing the funding needs of water systems throughout Wyoming.
    “Recently we’ve been paying more attention to how you do business – what you’re charging for water and how you’re using it,” Purcell told the water managers.
    He said he understands it’s politically tough to raise water rates, but, “We’re all at a time when we’re going to have to pay more and use less,” he said. “It’s a simple sign of the times.”
    He said the WWDC master plan has set priorities for immediate improvement within systems. “We then go about looking at our priorities for funding,” he explained. Multipurpose projects rank highest, followed by storage, then supply projects for irrigation first, then municipal and rural domestic supplies. Hydropower projects and recreation rank last on the list.
    “We’ use these priorities to establish our annual recommendations to the Legislature,” said Purcell.
    In 2008 the WWDC had $104 million in requests from Water Development Account 1. “We only had available $46.9 million,” said Purcell, adding that the WWDC staff planned to bring forth $41.3 million in recommendations to the Commission the following week. “That leaves $5.6 million for the Commission to allocate as they see fit,” he said.
    Water Development Account 2 received $19.7 million in requests, with $17.1 million available. Purcell said the WWDC staff recommended $14.6 in funding.
    “This is basically a cash flow problem,” he said of the funding. “When we look at projects we look at what we think the abilities of the sponsor are to accomplish the project. We’re seeing municipalities come to us with re-regulation reservoirs, which are a very good management tool, but very expensive. They’re good tools, but will we be able to afford them?”
    He said the re-regulation reservoir projects are too small to qualify for dams and reservoirs funding. Water Development Account 3, which funds dams and reservoirs, holds $144 million this year. “We are looking for sponsors on these projects,” said Purcell, mentioning the Upper Green River area. “We have ideas we think would work for upper basin reservoirs, but we’re having a hard time getting sponsors. They’re expensive, but we think we can help with that. We need sponsors to go through the permitting process.”
    He said the WWDC does need sponsors to take on the responsibility for the operation and management of the dams and reservoirs. “There is a lot of reluctance from many irrigators to form an irrigation district, and that is one of the hurdles we face when doing business with the ag community on storage projects.”
    “We have some ideas for storage projects, and we’re looking for good men and women to partner with us,” said Purcell. “I am not an advocate of state ownership. The water users need to step up and help us with these projects.”
Water rights make digital shift
    Wyoming Deputy State Engineer Harry LaBonde spoke to the Wyoming Water Association gathering with information relating to recent efforts to shift Wyoming’s water rights records to digital records available to anyone online.
    The new system deals with electronic permitting for water rights, with an electronic workflow management system. “This has been in development for the last three years and at the end we’ll have a new water rights database,” said LaBonde. “We have all the agency’s records dating back to 1862 and we’re going to scan them all into digital form so there’s no need to go back to the files and pull them out.” One of the records dating back about 100 years is a map drawn on a tablecloth.
    Currently the State Engineer’s Office (SEO) holds six million microfilm images and 300,000 drawings, all of which will be digitized in the new system. LaBonde says the office plans to complete the scanning effort in five to seven years.
    Under the new system those applying for water rights will submit an application for the new water right to the agency online. “You’ll input the data, we’ll review its acceptability and then recommend approval before it goes on to permit status,” said LaBonde. “Once approved electronically that document will be located in the system so you’ll see all of our workflow managed electronically in the future.”
    The new system will also include an overhauled water rights database. “One hundred years ago all our records were in paper form, then as computers came along spreadsheets began to be set up, which resulted in several access databases with spreadsheets that represented about 1,000 different spreadsheet databases,” said LaBonde. “We’re collecting all the important components of those and putting them in the new water rights database.”
    All new electronic permits will be automatically included in the new database. “We’re also looking to correct all of the data entry errors from over the years, as we’ve been struggling with maintaining good data,” said LaBonde. “Once we complete the migration, any new water rights info in the system will flow automatically into that database.”
    LaBonde also gave an update on instream flow water rights, the Stream Gauge Instrumentation Program and the Yellowstone River Compact litigation between Wyoming and Montana.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..