Water Development, Select Water discuss project funding for 2014
Casper – With a full agenda, the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and Select Water Committee (SWC) met Nov. 6-8 to review new applications for funding of projects and address any issues.
“The main purpose of the meeting was to review the new applications for funding, and we spent most of our time going through recommendations,” commented WWDC Director Harry LaBonde.
The focus of the meeting was to recommend funding levels for projects.
“For these projects, every recommendation from Director Harry LaBonde was followed or slightly amended,” Representative Mark Semlek noted.
For example, the Sundance water tank project and Lake Hattie Project, a dam works project, were discussed.
From Water Development Account One, $16 million was recommended to be distributed for projects. From Water Development Account Two, just over $540,000 was recommended to be distributed, and from Water Development Account Three, $1.8 million was recommended for projects.
There was also some discussion on water rates for municipalities.
“We have some entities coming to us for public money who are getting a water rate of $25 per month,” Semlek explained. “Others are charging twice that rate.”
The question raised was whether it was fair to award money to municipalities charging less.
“We want to make sure there is a level of fairness across the state and that all communities and irrigation districts are asking of their own at a fair rate compared to everyone else before they seek public money,” Semlek explained.
“The controversy still remains with the university and the Water Research Program,” said Semlek.
“With regards to the UW Water Research Program, the WWDC put two projects on hold at our last meeting,” LaBonde said. “The WWDC took the action to release that hold, so those projects are back on track.”
Following the August meeting, a handful of parties around the state contended that the WWDC and SWC defunded the projects inappropriately.
One of the studies defunded and then reinstated involved rumen microbial changes in cattle associated with high sulfur water.
“Several of the commissioners believed the results of the study would be used to contribute to additional regulations on ag and energy, which is not the case,” said Greg Kerr, Office of Water Program director and Water Research Program administrator. “Rather, the study aimed to help the ag industry.”
Semlek added, “Some debate was stimulated about whether the research would lead to the Department of Environmental Quality to set sulfur standards that would adversely affect us.”
The other discontinued study was a water law treatise, which some members of the WWDC and SWC believed may also be used negatively.
“I did a thorough investigation on the project,” Kerr continued. “State Engineer Pat Tyrrell thought it was an excellent document that would provide a good training tool for his staff to get more information on Wyoming water law.”
“Concerns were that it was going to be harmful for the state,” he added.
Both projects were reinstated.
Semlek raised the point, “The question remains as to if these projects should have been funded initially. Are they truly projects that enhance the development of water in Wyoming?”
The funding for the UW Water Research Program was also up for discussion, and the project was funded in the Omnibus Water Bill.
While funding amounts are yet to be determined, the program has historically been funded at $400,000, with $100,000 of matching funding from the U.S. Geological Survey.
“The Wyoming Water Association sent a letter of support for the Wyoming Water Research Program to Harry LaBonde, WWDC and SWC supporting the program,” added Kerr. “Mark Pepper, executive director of the Wyoming Rural Water Association, also wrote an excellent letter of support for our program.”
At their August meeting, the WWDC changed the process by which projects will be approved for the water research program.
“The WWDC and SWC members continue to have concern about the research topic selection process,” explained Semlek. “We did change the process to provide more involvement on the part of the WWDC and SWC to see which projects go forward.”
In the new process, a request for proposals is sent out during the summer months, and proposals are due by Oct. 1. Then, a review committee made up of governmental and federal agency representatives is asked to prepare a ranking for the proposals. The ranking prioritizes the projects in the order the committee believes they should be funded.
“At their January meeting, the WWDC will be given the opportunity to change that list or approve it,” explained LaBonde. “Those recommendations go to the SWC at their January meeting for approval. At that point, the dollar amount granted to each project will be inserted into the Omnibus Planning Bill.”
The change in procedure will give WWDC and SWC the opportunity to more efficiently determine whether research projects fit within the scope of the Water Research Program grants.
“We will continue to have these discussions,” Semlek added.
The next meeting of the WWDC and SWC will be Jan. 8-10 in Cheyenne, with the workshop day on Jan. 8, WWDC meeting on Jan. 9 and SWC meeting on Jan. 10. During that time, the Omnibus Water Bill will be reviewed and finalized prior to the legislature.
During the Nov. 6-8 meeting of the Wyoming Water Development Commission and the Select Water Committee, there was also discussion about requiring communities and municipalities to have a master plan before money can be received from the organizations.
“We continue to encourage communities to do master plans,” said Representative Mark Semlek.
The development of infrastructure, Semlek explained, should be thoroughly considered through a master plan before major developments are made to ensure the projects will be useful and long lasting.
“This is a discussion we will continue into the future,” he noted.