Heart Mountain Irrigation District seeks updated water rights and infrastructure
Powell – The 34,000-acre Heart Mountain Irrigation District is seeking to update water rights and improve its infrastructure to prevent interruptions in water supply and better serve their district, according to District Manager Tyler Weckler.
“We are petitioning to the State Engineer’s Office to expand water rights to previously unadjudicated areas within the district,” Weckler says. “We want our farmers who are utilizing irrigation to be able to do so with water rights.”
“Water rights follow the land,” he explains. “We want our producers to be able to continue to irrigate and utilize best practices.”
Weckler says Heart Mountain Irrigation District wants farmers who have water rights to continue to utilize those rights, but they also hope to offer the opportunity to farmers operating without to be able to claim water rights on their land and reap the benefits.
He noted the district is also operating under both state and federal grants to improve the infrastructure of the system, the federal WaterSMART Grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as a $1.7 million grant through Wyoming Water Development Commission.
“What can get complicated is each grant has different requirements and priorities,” Weckler says. “Where one grant may prioritize certain issues, the other grant may prioritize other issues.”
“We have to meet all the requirements of both grants to receive funding,” he explains.
If approved by the State Engineer’s Office, the enlargement would bring upwards of 3,400 more service contract acres into the district’s adjudicated area, according to Weckler.
Brian Duyck, president of the Heart Mountain Irrigation Board of Directors explains the history of water rights in the district as “complicated.”
“The homesteaders farmed areas that weren’t necessarily irrigable,” he explains. “Back in the day, flood irrigation was the only option, and some of the very low or very high spots weren’t able to receive water.”
Duyck says because these lands weren’t irrigated in the past, they never had water rights to begin with. When modern technology improved irrigating techniques and allowed for the ground to be leveled, there was still no water rights.
“We basically have a bunch of slivers of land that have no water rights, so the district extended contracts to these people, so they would be able to water their land without skipping over small slivers.”
He explains, of the 3,400 acres to be added, some of it is in slivers of less than an acre.
“These slivers without water rights could be in the middle of the field,” Duyck says. “This area needs regular water rights, so farmers can water their entire fields with no issues.”
Weckler explains the water used by irrigators originates high on Heart Mountain and comes through the mountains and into the Heart Mountain Canal, which is lined by concrete.
“The concrete liner was built in 1938,” Weckler says. “We have had some seepage issues in the past due to the sandy, loamy nature of the location.”
“Leaks are to be expected in any irrigation infrastructure,” he explains. “We have a maintenance crew that tends to small leaks as they occur.”
He explains issues occurring higher on the mountain can disrupt water supply to the entire district.
“If this canal were to fail, our district could be without water,” he says. “Maintaining this infrastructure ensures we have a constant water supply.”
“We have had large failures in the past,” he explains. “With these grants, we’re hoping to go in and figure out where the weak points are and fix them.”
“We are currently in the process of environmental review for the WaterSMART Grant,” Weckler says. “These are just things that have to be done before we put a single bucket in the ground.”
“Once we pass all the environmental inspections, we can move onto the design and bidding process,” he explains. “This is a process all projects of this nature have to go through.”
Weckler notes Heart Mountain Irrigation District hopes to complete environmental reviews and bidding during the summer of 2019, with the goal of breaking ground this fall.
Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.