Water issues, SEO continues to address concerns
It’s often said that in Wyoming, water reigns supreme, and the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office is focused on continuing to improve Wyoming’s water and address concerns.
Currently, State Engineer Pat Tyrrell says he’s been involved in a number of issues, including the Wyoming v. Montana water trial, several bills for the legislature and hot topics for 2014.
The Wyoming v. Montana trial was heard by the court from Oct. 16 to Dec. 5 in Billings, Mont.
“The trial is over now, and we are waiting for the final transcripts,” Tyrrell explains. “After five weeks of trial, we will wait for closing briefs and then the decision of the Special Master. Ultimately, to get a U.S. Supreme Court final decision, it will likely be the end of 2014 or early 2015.”
Special Master Barton Thompson, Jr., a professor at Stanford Law School, will issue recommendations to the Supreme Court, who will make their decision sometime in the next year.
In opening arguments, Wyoming Senior Assistant Attorney General James Kaste said that Montana irrigation managers routinely allow large volumes of water to bypass a reservoir along the states’ border.
A Bloomberg Businessweek News article reads, “That means water is lost when it drains from the Tongue River into the Yellowstone before it can be used for agriculture. Montana ‘spills its water needlessly into the Yellowstone River, only to turn to its neighbor and demand that we foot the bill,’ Kaste said.”
During the course of the trial, Tyrrell notes that the primary testimony looked at several factors.
“It really boiled down to the operations along the river – on both sides,” he says. “There was a lot of testimony on the operation of the Tongue River Reservoir and regulation on the Wyoming side compared to the Montana side of the river.”
Additionally, pre-compact versus post-compact rights and uses were discussed.
“It is a question of whether the pre-compact rights were short of water and what Wyoming’s response needs to be,” Tyrrell explains. “Can we allow any post-compact uses to occur if pre-compact rights are short? That is the ultimate question.”
Tyrrell adds that some testimony on groundwater was heard.
“I feel good about the case,” he says. “We have a very strong legal team, and I feel good about how we presented our case.”
The complaints about the Powder River were dropped from the case prior to trial.
Currently, the State Engineer’s Office is waiting for the next step in Wyoming v. Montana.
“The closing briefs will give us a good idea of what we won in the trial,” Tyrrell explains. “It will probably be a couple of months before we see those briefs.”
When they are published, the briefs will be available on the Special Master’s website.
“No one has a deadline yet, so we have a few months to wait yet,” he adds.
In 2013, Tyrrell notes that there are a number of issues the agency addressed, but most notably, the State Engineer’s Office celebrated its 125th year.
“We are probably one of the oldest agency’s in the state that still functions,” he says. “During the year, we spent time doing presentations and talking about what the agency has done through the years.”
Moving into 2014, the State Engineer’s Office marks continuing drought as an issue, particularly in looking at the Colorado River Basin.
“The drought is Colorado is still prevalent,” Tyrrell remarks. “We will see a lot of concern in the coming year about Lake Mead and Lake Powell and how to manage them through the drought.”
Additionally, Tyrrell mentions that several bills will be introduced in the Wyoming Legislature this year, and the budget bill remains important to the agency.
“For the 13 years I’ve been at the State Engineer’s Office, we also have 20 issues or so boiling in the background,” Tyrrell says. “We are working on each of them.”