Watching water, Rhodes operates water rights management firm
Worland – After working with governmental organizations for a number of years, Todd Rhodes saw the need for a professional in the water industry to help people understand their water rights.
“I started this company back in 1992 to answer the need for water rights searches, professional advice and service to help people perfect and protect their water rights,” says Todd. “We work statewide and have a varied list of clientele.”
Todd says that he works to serve primarily agriculture concerns.
Education and experience
Todd began his journey with water in his youth.
“I was raised in Pennsylvania farm country, and I didn’t know what a water right was. But, from a boy, I was always been around water. It was my overall interest in water that brought me to Wyoming,” he says. “I studied water resource management at Penn State.”
Agriculture has been an important part of his life for many years, and Todd says he saw opportunity in the West.
“I was more interested in water use than water quality, and I recognized the shortages of water in the West,” he explains.
After graduating, he moved to Wyoming working for the U.S. Geological Survey, where he measured stream flows.
“From there, I went to the State Engineer’s Office and I worked as a water commissioner in Casper,” Todd explains. “My area included the tributaries along the front range of Casper Mountain and Bates Creek.”
As a county employee, he was also involved in local issues on the North Platte River.
Todd then moved to Worland, where he worked on Gooseberry, Cottonwood and Grass Creeks, as well as a series of intermittent drainages in the area.
“I worked for the State Engineer for nine years,” he says. “In 1992, I left the state’s employ to build my consulting firm.”
Water rights consulting
When Todd started Wyoming Water Rights Consulting, the idea was a new one.
“I coined the phrase water rights management services,” he says. “When I started the company, it was a one-man shop and a new concept.”
In the early 90s, Todd notes that the State Engineer’s Office (SEO) was doing water rights searches and providing water rights information to the public. Everything had to be searched by hand back then. The SEO staff seemed happy to have someone take some of that workload.
“I always thought it would be beneficial to have a private individual out there to help people with their water issues,” says Todd. “As it turned out, I was right.”
Changes in society have influenced Todd’s workload.
“There are a number of folks coming into the state with different perspectives and different expectations, based on where they came from,” says Todd. “For instance, there is a growing focus on fisheries. I fish, I work for agriculture, and I’m a firm believer in the values of agrarian society.”
He notes that agriculture must continue protecting its water as some individuals and groups attempt to tweak Wyoming’s water laws.
“Some people don’t seem to understand that even if we make seemingly small water use changes on the stream, it can possibly have a significant ripple effect throughout the system,” Todd continues. “Societal issues associated with urbanization are changing people’s wants and priorities.”
“Wyoming is a headwater state. Fortunately, we have a very strong set of water statutes to protect our water. We need to be careful in considering changes to those statutes,” he adds.
As more people move in, Todd also notes that water rights and the use of water in the state are becoming more important, and more scrutinized.
“Through history, there has been one basic rule that most landowners followed and that was don’t mess with someone else’s water,” Todd says. “With the societal and regulatory changes we are seeing, there is more tendency of landowners to challenge and test another’s water right. Pressure is building.”
Water rights, he says, are tied to specific parcels of land, and if the water is not being beneficially used on that specific parcel, the right can be abandoned. He notes that big disparities can exist between the water rights of record and the actual use of water on a property.
“We are seeing, with an increasing frequency, that water rights are being challenged,” Todd explains.
“Irrigation of the intended lands is really important,” Todd continues. “The state will not allow landowners to make changes until they can show beneficial use of all the affected lands. Non-use subjects the water rights to loss.”
Wyoming Water Rights, he says, works to help water users prevent those losses.
“When we go on a property, we research their water rights and look at what the landowner is actually using, how it compares to the water rights of record,” he explains. “We often find lands that are irrigated but do not have a water right and others that are water righted but not irrigated.”
Helping landowners to understand and utilize their water appropriations on the intended lands is a large part of Todd’s business.
Wyoming Water Rights continually expands their business to include more employees who can serve clients’ needs.
“We are expanding our firm and adding some staff,” Todd notes. “We have a good workload. There is a lot of need out there for these services, and we are excited about the future.”
Since 1992, the company has grown to include four additional employees.
He predicts that continued water difficulties will be seen by landowners and water users affected by increased federal regulations.
“Changing regulations and policies at all levels are a concern” he says.
Todd also notes that he serves a wide variety of clientele and works to manage water rights for absentee owners, looks into water rights for realtors and helps landowners understand and utilize their water rights, among other things.
Benefits of a business
Being in business for himself, Todd says he enjoys the freedom to operate how he sees fit.
“Back then, I had not had any business experience, nor had my family, so it was a big step to move from the public to the private sector,” he explains. “I could not have built this company without the support and encouragement of my wife Virginia.”
Todd notes that he enjoys the personal freedom and the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of good people around Wyoming.
“I am very detail oriented, and we have a lot of long days,” Todd says. “But I enjoy it. We have developed our work procedures in a way I feel best manages and protects our clients’ water rights assets.”
“I enjoy being a businessman, developing my own company and putting out a great product for our clients,” he comments.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.