Water research: Committees look for alternatives
Baggs – The University of Wyoming’s Water Research Program, funded by the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), was the subject of scrutiny during an Aug. 21 afternoon workshop of the WWDC and Select Water Committee (SWC).
“As a result of some of the conversations we have had in the past, there are things we might be able to do to enhance the Water Research Program,” said UW Office of Water Programs Director Greg Kerr, noting that there are a number of options for changing the program.
As the program stands, $400,000 in legislatively-appropriated dollars are granted to the WWDC each biennium. Additional matching funding from USGS and other sources is also provided for qualifying projects.
In June of each year, WWDC signs a memorandum of understanding on the distribution of funding, and a request for proposals is released in July to identify potential research projects. Research project proposals are received by October, at which point they are sent to experts across the country for peer review.
Finally, the program’s advisory committee reviews the proposals and selects projects to be funded. The advisory committee serves to evaluate projects for their technical feasibility, relevance to the program and ability to positively influence Wyoming’s water development.
While the system works well, members of WWDC and SWC felt that they should have some input into the projects that are selected.
“Are the projects that come out of the program appropriately funded out of WWDC?” questioned SWC Chairman Mark Semlek. “Some of these projects might not be very closely tied with what we do in this program.”
Semlek, with the support of other members attending the meeting, noted that the opportunity to review and approve projects and abstracts prior to final selections would be advantageous.
“I think the process that we do would be to first screen for what projects we think are eligible, and then, since we have a limited amount of money, it seems that we could be helpful in reflecting the priorities of the applications,” said WWDC Commissioner Margo Sabec.
Ultimately, the committees wanted to provide input on which projects were selected, with the opportunity to dismiss any projects they find irrelevant to WWDC’s goals. They also looked to prioritize projects they felt were most important to the state.
Additionally, they desired the chance to review the request for proposal prior to its distribution.
While four options were presented, committee members favored options three and four, with some modifications.
Both options involved moving the date that memorandum of understanding (MOU) is signed.
Option three looked at signing the MOU in November at the WWDC meeting, while option four considered signing the agreement to transfer funds in March following approval of the Omnibus Water Bill, where the funding is approved by the legislature.
WWDC Director Harry LaBonde said, “In the development of option four, our intent was that the omnibus planning bill would remain the same. The difference is that when the bill is being considered, if the question is asked what kind of projects does this fund, we could provide the answer.”
As the process currently stands, the legislature appropriates funds to the Water Research Program prior to selecting the projects that will be funded.
Semlek worried, however, that the additional information could potentially impede the progress of the bill in the legislature.
“My concern is that, currently, the Omnibus Water Bill usually goes through the legislature with not a single ‘no’ vote. In my opinion, on the floor is not the place to debate these projects. Adding information about the projects could raise undue suspicion and taint the process,” he explained.
With all of WWDC and SWC’s concerns in mind, LaBonde was directed to make changes to the process to present to the committee during their Aug. 23 meeting. A final decision on the process is expected that day.
“I’m crazy about this idea,” added Sabec. “I think it makes sense that we have the final approval of projects funded by WWDC, with the subsequent approval by SWC.”