Water project - WWDC considers funding for 2016 bienniumWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – With the rapid approach of the 2016 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature, the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and Select Water Committee convened on Nov. 4-6 to consider projects for funding in their 2016 omnibus bills.
“The meeting went well,” says Wyoming Water Development Director Harry LaBonde. “There was a fair amount of discussion on some projects.”
A project that has been under discussion for some time involves the Lower Nowood District’s desire to drill a well for water users in the district. The project has created some controversy in Ten Sleep, where WWDC asked that, if possible, the Lower Nowood District be connected to the Ten Sleep water supply.
“At a town council meeting last week, Jeannette King from the Lower Nowood presented their case about how they needed water,” LaBonde described, also noting that WWDC asked for several items in the water service agreement to be changed prior to providing funding for a project to connect to the town’s water supply.
“We had a very good discussion with the council, and they had a work session on the issue,” he added.
However, at the conclusion of the process, the Town Council voted against changing the water service agreement and recommended that the Lower Nowood drill their own water supply well.
As a result, the District opted to pursue that avenue.
“The Commission increased the grant percentage from 67 to 71 percent of eligible project costs to decrease the price of the water for users,” he said, also noting that the water costs will still be much higher than the average in the state. “I think that worked well for the Lower Nowood folks.”
In a project that generated discussion on several fronts, the proposal to study leasing water to the Lower Colorado River Basin states, a motion was made for the Wyoming Water Development Office, Wyoming State Engineer and Wyoming Attorney General’s Office to put together a white paper.
“They did not go forward with that motion,” LaBonde noted. “Director Tyrrell did tell the Commission he would put together a document to provide a summary of the law of the river that talks about the leases or water sales from the Upper Basin to the Lower Basin and why in his view, it was not appropriate.”
However, prior to reaching that conclusion, Tyrrell provided the Commission with a list of his reasons for supporting LaBonde’s recommendation against funding the study.
State Engineer perspective
“When I was made aware this was under consideration, I wanted to make sure any sensitivities relative to the law of the river were heard,” Tyrrell said.
“First, the state of Wyoming does not own the water in the sense it has the ability to sell or lease it,” he explained. “When we read the Compact, the Upper Basin States are provided only the ability to deplete the river by 7.5 million acre-feet a year, and we get 14 percent of what is available to the Upper Basin.”
Further, if Wyoming does not use that water, it can’t be hoarded for later use.
Tyrrell also noted that once the water leaves Wyoming, it is gone.
“Keeping our name on the water through Colorado, Utah and below is nigh impossible,” he explained, also noting that, even if it were possible, differentiating the water as “Wyoming water” would be nearly impossible.
“Any water we put in the river becomes system water once it leaves Wyoming,” Tyrrell continued. “There is no way to put Las Vegas’ name on it, for example, if we could lease it. There is no way to make that segregation without another entity saying we are taking water from them.”
In addition, the water is accounted for where it is utilized beneficially, meaning that any water used in Nevada or California, for example, is charged to their water allowance.
Tyrrell also listed a host of other concerns, including the impacts of a water lease on the Colorado River Compact and whether or not it violates the Compact.
“Also, exchanging water for money, at some point, could have interstate commerce clause implications,” he said.
Senator Gerald Geis of Worland commented, “We don’t have enough money for the lawsuits that would come if we took this action.”
“The best way to defend and protect our water is to put it to use in Wyoming,” Tyrrell added.
Another project bringing lively debate concerned the Jacoby Golf Course at the University of Wyoming (UW).
“Sen. Phil Nicholas of Laramie attended the meeting, and he noted that the project intended to look at a system-wide solution, rather than one specific to the golf course,” LaBonde said.
The Wyoming Water Development Office will review the project and revise their recommendation for a UW campus-wide irrigation supply project.
This year, WWDC received $50 million in project requests but only had $35 million to spend from Account One of their budget. The bill concerning water projects will be finalized at the WWDC and Select Water Committee January meeting.