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Tyrrell reviews 2012 water activities at WWA meeting

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lander – The low water year led to some interesting regulatory events in several water divisions across the state. Pat Tyrrell of the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office says that they also declared a tributary stream for in-stream stock use only for the first time since the early 2000s.
    Tyrrell was among a number of presenters at the 2012 Wyoming Water Association Annual Meeting held in Lander this year on Oct. 24-26.
Water shortages
    Within Water Division One, Bates Creek has ground water that is in hydrological connection with surface water.
    “In 2007 and 2008 we regulated wells off because they were junior, and surface water was short,” explained Pat Tyrrell, Wyoming State Engineer. “We had a similar event this summer. It started out, because of the ditch location, most of the wells were already off and two were allowed to rotate and continue pumping.
    “The decision was appealed up, and I decided that the wells needed to be entirely off. That decision has been appealed to district court, and this month we got the record into the court. It will be the second test of this office to regulate ground water in conjunction with surface water priorities that will have made it through the court system in Wyoming.”
    The main activity in Water Division Two involved requests for wells to be used for oil and gas drilling.
    Dryness was the largest story within Water Division Three.
    When a stream has so little water in it and it is difficult to make beneficial use of it, the State Engineer’s Office can declare the water that is present to be for livestock use only in stream. The diversions are shut down to allow the creek try to come alive again.
    “We had a declaration of in stream stock use only on Owl Creek just this last week,” Tyrrell explained. “There were summers during the drought of the 2000s where we issued this across the state periodically. Owl Creek was the first one we saw this summer. Luckily it didn’t come into play until after the irrigation season.”
International waters
    For Water Division Four, negotiations are going on between the United States and Mexico concerning language in the treaty that would have Mexico taking voluntary shortages.
    The 2007 agreements allowed for coordinated operations with Lake Mead and Lake Powell and required lower Colorado River Basin states to take shortages for the first time. Their agreement to do so was contingent on the U.S. finding a way to have Mexico also take shortages.
     “Strictly speaking, under the treaty Mexico cannot take a shortage unless the river is experiencing an extraordinary drought,” Tyrrell said. “Nobody is able to define, in a manner that is acceptable to everyone, what an extraordinary drought in that basin looks like.”
    “The basin is huge, we could have drought in Wyoming and Utah, and winter rains in Arizona, and Lake Mead looks fine. It also could be the reverse,” he continued. “So rather than trying to define extraordinary drought, they have decided to define conditions under which Mexico would take voluntary shortage and the treaty does not get invoked. This agreement is currently being worked on.”
    The main thing for Wyoming is that it is in shortage area. Water Divisions Three and Four saw 40 to 50 percent of normal water flow this year.
    “As of 2007, the lower basin cannot look at Lake Mead and Lake Powell as permanent water supplies,” Tyrrell explained. “It is only equitable that all areas of the basin might have to take shortages.
    “What does a voluntary shortage look like, and what are the conditions on it?” asked Tyrrell. “I think it is the largest piece of unfinished business that is in the Colorado River Basin. We’re hoping it will come off in way that is helpful to Mexico, helpful to the United States, and shares, what is becoming in this drought period, a very water short river basin.”
    Tyrrell protested 17-inch in-stream flow proofs in the Bear River and its tributaries. The county, conservation district and a water company protested the 14 adjudications.
    “After reviewing the evidence in August,” Tyrrell reported. “The board determined that those parties did not have standing to protest the proofs because they did not hold water rights on those creeks. This was the first decision of this type that I can recall being made by this board in the 12 years that I have been on it. This decision may still be appealed, as with all of our motions.”
    Tyrrell said, “Looking at the water supply by the numbers, it was a little better of a summer than I thought we were going to have back in May.”
    Melissa Hemken is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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