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Wyoming People

Lawson retires from BuRec

Written by Christy Martinez
Casper – After nearly 40 years with the Wyoming Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) in Casper, Wyoming Area Manager John Lawson retired on Dec. 31, 2011.
    Of his time with BuRec, which he says was just shy of 38 years, Lawson comments that he most enjoyed the people he worked with through the years, and that’s compelled he and his wife of 43 years to stay in the Casper area for retirement, rather than return to his home state of Montana, where his career with BuRec began. Lawson has worked in Casper for 23 years.
    Although he’s not yet a month into retirement, Lawson already has a to-do list for the future, including becoming more active in the community, constructing a new home and providing consulting services.
    “I would like to stay active in the state of Wyoming and the panhandle of Nebraska,” he notes. “I think there are issues on which I might be able to lend some help.”
A crash course
    Lawson says his biggest challenge with the Wyoming Area Office came when he first started in 1989.
    “At that time, Nebraska was suing the State of Wyoming in Nebraska v. Wyoming, which included the United State Bureau of Reclamation,” he says. “There was also a significant drought underway in 1989, and as a result there were also two other lawsuits I walked into. One was on how to allocate water, and some of Reclamation’s own irrigation districts were suing us, and the other was because, due to water shortages, the Casper/Alcova Irrigation District was attempting to loan water to other districts, and we didn’t concur with how they were going about it.”
    Although he joined the Wyoming office with one lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court and two others in federal district court, Lawson says all three resulted in good outcomes for all parties.
    “The allocation lawsuit took 10 years for the judge to issue a final decision, and by that time all 13 irrigation districts had already come to an acceptable agreement,” he says.
    Lawson notes that good working relationships are one of the most memorable things from his time managing water.
    “I spent a lot of time working with the entities in Nebraska and Wyoming, and we found ways to work together collaboratively to resolve our differences, and I’m proud of how that evolved over the years,” he states.
Endangered species fears are settled
    Lawson says one of the reasons he took the position of Wyoming Area Manager in the first place is because of his previous involvement with the endangered species issues on the North Platte and Platte rivers.
    “In my previous position in Billings, I was involved with nine states from New Mexico to the Canadian border, and as a result of those endangered species challenges we now have the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, and water users don’t have to live in fear that a substantial amount of their water will be taken because of an endangered species,” explains Lawson.
    Lawson gives flushing flows out of Gray Reef Reservoir on the North Platte River as an example of a part of that program. BuRec worked in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to implement those flows, to which the success of fisheries in the North Platte is attributed today.
    “We also restored the ability to have flows year round between Glendo and Guernsey, and we restored the year round flows from Pathfinder to Alcova in Fremont Canyon. Those were done with a collaborative process that involved fisheries, flycasters, the Game and Fish, BLM and many other people,” explains Lawson. “Twenty years ago there wasn’t a fishery below Pathfinder, there were no continuous flows, and those things came about while I was here, and I’m proud to have been a small part of that.”
    Through the years, Lawson says he worked with many groups, including agriculture, irrigation, environmental, conservation and power interests.
    “I couldn’t have asked to have an opportunity to work with a more diverse group of customers – and I never forgot they were our customers,” he says.
Lawson continues to
 monitor spring water
    Looking to this spring’s water situation, Lawson says that old habits don’t die easily, and he has the water and snowpack monitoring websites saved to his home computer, and he assesses them almost on a daily basis.
    “If I was still there, the most troubling thing to keep in mind is that the reservoirs are still extremely full for this time of year, with carryover from the year before,” he notes. “The snowpack comes in late March, April and May, and the real ringer is what happens with a storm event where we start to get a lot of rain in the spring. They still have to be very careful with how they plan their operations early on, because the reservoirs are so full.”
    “Right now there are no releases being made out of the last reservoir in the system at Guernsey. All the water coming into the basin is being stored at this time, which is how I would have operated,” he continues. “I’ve looked at some plans, and it looks they’ll plan to start making releases at least in April, even with the current low snowpack conditions.”
    Currently the position of Wyoming Area Manager is filled with an acting individual from Montana. The position has been advertised and has closed, and the Billings BuRec office will now review the candidates and make a final selection.
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..