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BuRec’s John Lawson says 2008 water year brings good news

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – In an update to the Wyoming Water Association Oct. 29, Wyoming Area Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation John Lawson said this last year was a good water year.
    “We did have a good year, which, quite frankly, wasn’t too much above average in some places, but things have been so miserable since 2001 that this last year appeared to be a great year. I’m going to take advantage of giving out good news for once,” he told the audience.
    Pathfinder and Seminoe reservoirs on the North Platte River each hold a little over a million acre-feet (af) when they’re full, Boysen Reservoir on the Wind River holds approximately 740,000 af, and Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Cody holds 646,000 af. “If you total all that up, it’s close to 3.4 million af of storage,” said Lawson. “That represents a lot of storage in Wyoming.”
    Because September is the end of the irrigating season, reservoirs are generally bottomed out by that time. “In September 2007 we had 226,000 af of water in Seminoe, which holds 1.17 million af,” said Lawson. “That was only 22 percent full. In Pathfinder it was the same situation. We had only 17 percent capacity there, with 170,000 af of water. Boysen, again, only had 389,000 af, while Buffalo Bill had 417,000 af.”
    However low 2007 may have ended, in a year’s time Lawson said Seminoe moved from 226,000 af to 534,000 af. “We went from 171,000 in Pathfinder to 348,000. That’s more than double the amount in both of those,” he says.
    Boysen increased from 389,000 af to 628,000 af in 2008. “These are pretty dramatic increases,” said Lawson. “Buffalo Bill is not quite as dramatic, but still good, moving from 417,000 af to 484,000 af this year.”
    More important than the increases from year to year are, Lawson said, the averages. “The 30-year average is how we usually base our progress. Last year Seminoe was at 35 percent of where we should have been Sept. 30. This year it’s at 84 percent. That’s a dramatic increase.”
    “In Pathfinder last year we were also at 35 percent of the average, while this year we’re at 72 percent. That brings it home for us,” he commented. “Boysen has the same kind of results. It was at 64 percent last year, this year it’s at 104 percent of the 30-year average.”
    Buffalo Bill, which he said has always been a little more blessed in water supplies, was at 96 percent last year and this year sits at 111 percent. “That’s the good news aspect in a capsule,” he added.
    However good the news may be, he cautioned that, particularly in Boysen and the reservoirs on the North Platte, we could have one bad year and be right back to talking about the 35 percent numbers again. “It could happen that easily,” he said.
    Lawson said Wyoming’s water managers continue to speak of the need for conservation and allocation and turning off the water as soon as possible. “I didn’t hear the kind of stuff eight or nine years ago, but now I’m having it preached to me, which is good.”
    Regarding water partnerships, Lawson said the Bureau of Reclamation is working closely with the state on endangered species issues. “Part of the funding under some of our programs is to address Endangered Species Act (ESA) funding, and right now for 2009 we received over $11 million for ESA. Half of that went to the Platte River Implementation Program, which is progressing well and moving ahead,” he said.
    “One of the major things we’ve been working with is a partnership with Wyoming on the modification of Pathfinder, which will allow us to restore some space lost to sediment and, more importantly, be able to have the change of use and be able to use the water for environmental purposes for the program, and also to contract with the state of Wyoming so it can be used for agricultural purposes and municipal purposes,” explained Lawson.
    He said the project is going ahead well, with a hearing the week before with the Board of Control. “I testified there for the change of use, and we had opposition but we’ve that resolved with an agreement and I believe we’ll be successful,” he said.
    Wyoming is paying for the modification’s design, a process that Lawson said is over 50 percent complete. “If all the pieces come together, and there are a lot of pieces, we might even see construction a year from now.”
    “All that is good news, and it’s nice to stand here and be able to say that,” he concluded.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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