Current water issues outlined by Wyoming SEO
Casper – According to Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell, this spring’s good snowpack followed by decent moisture from rainfall is “remarkable.”
Although Water Division 1 in the southeast corner of the state experienced some flooding from rain that filled the North Platte below Casper, Pathfinder and Seminoe reservoirs are now getting runoff.
“With a little luck, Pathfinder will fill within the week; Pathfinder hasn’t filled since 1999, and Seminoe has not accrued any water since 1999, so the district has been living off Seminoe and was within a year of being out of water,” Tyrrell told the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in a state water update during their summer conference held early June. “Hopefully we can get some water into Seminoe to help that system. Guernsey Reservoir is full, and we’re in pretty good shape for water supply in that part of the state.”
In Water Division 2, the northeast portion of the state, Tyrrell said the biggest issues are coalbed methane production management and the Montana versus Wyoming lawsuit.
“The biggest coalbed issues right now stem from task force work a year ago. One of them is the implementation of additional conditions on groundwater permits that require a threshold gas production after a certain amount of time, because the beneficial use on those permits is the production of gas,” he said.
All briefs have been filed on Wyoming’s motion to dismiss the Montana versus Wyoming lawsuit. “We got the last reply done last week, and now we’re waiting on the court to determine if they will hear testimony on the motion or rule as it is,” said Tyrrell.
The primary issues in the case are Montana’s recent determination that the compact is depletion-based rather than diversion-based, which is Wyoming’s position. “Montana’s own paperwork says it’s a diversion-based compact,” noted Tyrrell.
“Montana doesn’t like that we won’t unilaterally regulate off post-1950 rights if their pre-1950 rights are short water,” he explained. “There is no interstate priority schedule in the compact. There is an annual allotment of water and we’re under no obligation to turn off our post-50 rights.”
Tyrrell said Montana is also seeking to pull groundwater into the Yellowstone River Compact, which he says has happened to a number of other compacts. However, he says that, hydrologically, hydrographically and geologically, the Tongue and Powder rivers do not have the same groundwater development connected to rivers like the North Platte. “Montana would like to see coalbed natural gas production tied to the river, but we’re going to fight all the claims Montana has raised.”
Briefs on the case are available on the Wyoming Attorney General’s website.
“It’s difficult to store water and let it go at the same time,” said Tyrrell of clashes in the Big Horn River Basin surrounding Yellowtail Dam and Big Horn Lake. “We’ve had Wyoming and Montana interests wanting water both in the reservoir and in the river below.”
“Divisions 2 and 3 are seeing quite a bit of water,” he said. “There are 5,000 cfs going out of Yellowtail and at least 12,000 going in. It’s 12 feet above minimum operating level and we have water and snow yet to come. Buffalo Bill is rising, and it’s still filling.”
As of June 5, Tyrrell said recent spring storms dropped another foot of snow in the Absaroka Range above Buffalo Bill. “John Lawson is anticipating a lot of water coming down that river this spring and summer. It’s a little different game to manage too much water than too little,” he said the Bureau of Reclamation’s Wyoming Area Manager.
Tyrrell said in Water Division 4 there are Colorado River issues. “We’re trying to protect storage and power production when Lake Mead is low, but when it’s high we don’t mind sharing a little bit.”
“Also in 4 we’re endeavoring to get a better handle on knowing our water uses and depletions in that basin,” he said. “The Green and the Little Snake are areas where we had less water measuring than other parts of the state.”
He says monitoring use is important when the “dark side” of the compact surfaces in lean years. “The compact says if we’re unable to meet our obligations, then the upper basin states have to curtail their own use based upon the previous year’s consumption. We wouldn’t know what that is, because we don’t know our uses that well. Ag uses are the dominant use, and they’re the most difficult to accurately measure.”
Tyrrell says the State Engineer’s Office is getting cooperation from industry and municipalities to report water use. “The best way to defend what you’re using is to measure. We’re mapping irrigated acres, and it’s just the Green River Basin’s turn. In the West you need to know what you’re using to protect your use.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.