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State Board of Control grants Saratoga hearing

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – In a June 9 hearing in Casper the state Board of Control declined to dismiss a change of use request brought by the Bureau of Reclamation.
    However, they did grant the Upper North Platte Valley Water Users and the Upper North Platte Valley Water Conservation associations a change of venue for the scheduled October hearing.
    The requests center around a petition from the Bureau of Reclamation to change the use of 53,493 acre-feet of water in Pathfinder Reservoir upon completion of the Pathfinder Modification project, which would add several feet to the dam and compensate for storage lost to silting. The water in the change of use would, in part, help with endangered species in Nebraska.
    Rawlins attorney John MacPherson filed both motions on May 23. Because many landowners who filed for party status in the case live in or near Saratoga, the motion was granted to change the October hearing from Casper to Saratoga.
    Boulder attorney Fritz Holleman, representing the North Platte groups, maintained in support of the motion to dismiss that the petition for change of use isn’t even legitimate under Wyoming water law, and that no hearing can even be set until all information is collected. Until then, he said, the Board of Control cannot do its duty.
    However, U.S. Attorney for the Bureau of Reclamation John Chaffin said the U.S. can hold a water right, and that in Wyoming law there is a place for it.
    Also, he said the change of use wouldn’t create an instream flow for the water. “The change of use is simply an export of a block of water to the Wyoming border, and there it will be used by Nebraska pursuant to Nebraska law. What they use it for is no different than what we do with the Pathfinder water today.”
    Holleman said all Pathfinder water is tied to secondary permits held in the name of individual landowners, and a change of use would be like “taking their cars and tractors as well.”
    “The proposed use is fundamentally different from the historic use, and we need that historic use information because the space hasn’t been used for 58 years,” he said.
    The Board of Control made a unanimous decision to deny the motion to dismiss, and the case will be discussed further at the October meeting in Saratoga.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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