Upper Platte users sign settlementWritten by Jennifer Womack
“…water users in the North Platte Basin above Pathfinder Reservoir are protected from any increased water rights administration that would otherwise have been caused by the changed water rights for the Pathfinder Modification Project,” says a mid-October letter from Boulder, Colo.-based attorney P. Fritz Holleman to Upper North Platte Water Users Association (UNPWUA) President Joe Glode.
Holleman continues, “In addition to the protections to ensure that there will be no increased water rights administration as a result of the PMP, the Agreement guarantees that the United States and the State of Wyoming will not seek any additional water from water users above Pathfinder for any future component of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, except to the extent that such water can be secured from willing sellers or lessors.” The Agreement also requires the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) to reimburse the UNPWUA and the Upper North Platte Valley Water Conservation Association $266,428.71.
In a Nov. 5 letter to association members, Glode says total litigation costs approached a half million dollars. Of the attorneys fees received, he says, “We intend to use this money to continue to educate the general public as to the importance of water rights and uses in the Upper Platte River Basin as well as to maintain a fund with which to defend those rights and uses when the need arises.”
Of the attorney fees, WWDO Director Mike Purcell says, “The money came from the permitting budget for the Pathfinder Modification Project appropriated by the Legislature directly to the Water Development Office to implement the Nebraska v. Wyoming lawsuit. There was a specific item within the appropriation to pursue the PMP. I obtained the necessary approvals to use these funds for the attorney fees.”
The Bureau of Reclamation has a Wyoming water right to store 1,070,000 acre-feet of water in Pathfinder Reservoir for irrigation and domestic purposes. The BuRec filed a petition with the Board of Control to change the use on 54,000 acre feet of that water right so it can be used for Wyoming’s contribution to the PRRIP and serve as a supplemental water supply for North Platte municipalities. The Board of Control approved that petition on Nov. 4, acknowledging the recent settlement as one part of it.
Coupled with the proposed change of use is a plan to restore nearly 54,000 acre feet of storage space lost to sediment through the PMP through a partnership between the BuRec and the State of Wyoming.
First proposed in 1994, the PMP would be accomplished by raising the elevation of the existing emergency spillway for the dam by approximately 2.39 feet. Approximately 34,000 acre-feet of the proposed 54,000 acre-foot modification would be accounted for in an environmental account and operated for the benefit of endangered species and habitat in Central Nebraska as Wyoming’s contribution to the PRRIP on behalf of its water users in the Platte River basin. The remaining 20,000 acre-feet will be part of a municipal account.
“The next step,” says Purcell, “is to get legislative approval, through the State Engineer’s Office, for the export of water from the PMP to serve as Wyoming’s contribution to the PRRIP. The plans and specifications for construction of the project are underway.”