Mead emphasizes importance of Wyo water during annual conference
Casper – “Most citizens in Wyoming think about water in a unique way,” Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said during his luncheon address at the 2014 Wyoming Water Association conference. “If the faucet doesn’t turn on, we think about water. If we are in a drought, we think about water, but recognizing that water is our most important resource outside of our people, we have to think about it all the time.”
Mead noted that because water is so important, he has made it an important component of his term in office, going so far as to develop a water strategy to ensure Wyoming water is protected for the benefit of Wyoming citizens.
After developing the Wyoming Energy Strategy, Mead noted that one of the actions from the strategy required development of a water strategy.
“As important as energy is, it is not more important than water,” he said. “People have different perspectives about why they care about water, but we all recognize the value of Wyoming water.”
Because of its value, he commented, the state needs to take proactive efforts to protect and utilize water for the benefit of the state.
“We began this water strategy because Wyoming’s most important natural resource is water,” Mead added.
Looking back in history, Mead noted that many efforts have been taken by forward-thinking individuals to address and improve water in the state, and efforts need to continue to be taken.
“In 1910, the Buffalo Bill Reservoir was built,” he said. “They didn’t build it for the people of 1911 and 1912, they built it for us now.”
“In my last State of the State, I said, ‘When we think about water and the value of water, we have to have the same vision of 100 years ago. What is going to be necessary in not just two, five and 10 years, but 100 years from now?’ That is how valuable water is,” Mead said.
Mead’s water strategy seeks to combine the interests of Wyoming’s population and to look toward the future in developing water.
“We held nine listening sessions and received comments in four main areas,” he explained, citing water development; management, conservation and protection; management; and water and watershed restoration. “We received over 7,000 emails.”
Initiatives were developed to address the input provided by citizens and ensure that Wyoming interests are protected.
In developing the strategy in the future, Mead noted the process will continue to be challenging.
“As we make decisions, there is no question this is going to be controversial, but if we do nothing because it is hard or controversial, that is the worst,” Mead said. “All of this is for naught if we don’t have water in Wyoming.”
Mead noted that, in looking at the situation in the Colorado River and with Lower Basin states, Wyoming needs to be cognizant that the compacts governing Wyoming water are powerful.
“While we agree and disagree on what should be done on different initiatives in our water strategy, we should collectively agree that it makes no difference if we don’t keep Wyoming water in Wyoming as much as possible,” he continued.
Wyoming must work through the disagreements to protect the state’s water today and moving into the future.
With over $20 billion in savings for the state, Mead explained that Wyoming has great financial strength that comes from the state’s private sector, including agriculture, minerals and tourism, but each of those sectors is dependent on water.
“We have to have this strategy and make sure it is sound,” Mead added.
“As we move forward with this water strategy, it has been extraordinary watching the input from Wyoming citizens,” Mead said. “We want to get it right, and we want to hear every point of view. We entered this with an open mind, and we will keep that to develop a water strategy that is right for Wyoming.”
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead recognized that federal government overreach also impacts Wyoming waters, particularly citing the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers.
“This rule was developed prior to consulting with states,” Mead said. “The EPA and Corps suggest this is going to be beneficial to the state’s ag and tourism. I disagree with that.”
He also cited concern with the manner by which the federal government proposed the rule – without consulting any state authorities.
“I think rule is contrary to the purpose of the Clean Water Act, which is to recognize, preserve and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of the state,” he said.
Mead also noted that the rule extends the Clean Water Act to the point where it expands beyond a water issue and become a land concern.
“With the great water law we have, we think we are in the best position to manage and use the water in Wyoming,” Mead said. “I asked the EPA and Corps not to change the rule but to withdraw the rule.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.