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Mitigating risk: First day of WWA convention looks at mitigating risk of infrastructure failure

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

On Oct. 20, the Wyoming Water Association (WWA) kicked off their annual meeting and seminar, themed “Risk, Resiliency and Readiness.” The first day of the meeting was dedicated to mitigating risk.

“This couldn’t be a more important topic,” stated Gov. Mark Gordon. “Last year, we saw the collapse of the Goshen County Irrigation Tunnel and it highlighted how much irrigation infrastructure we have in the state that is over 100 years old and in various stages of decay.” 

“In Wyoming, there is no more important resource than water,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) chimed in. “Agriculture, wildlife, forests and cities all depend on strong and healthy watersheds. So, while many look to Washington, D.C. for guidance, we know better because it all depends on folks in Wyoming to help guide the water needs of our state.” 

Risk mitigation

One of the ways Wyoming infrastructure may be improved is through risk mitigation, according to Cory Forman, who discussed the idea of mitigating risk during the meeting.

“Risk mitigation is defined as taking steps to prevent or reduce adverse effects,” he explained. “It is really about shifting to a proactive planning process prior to failure of infrastructure occurring.” 

Forman then explained the steps of risk mitigation, noting there are several variations of the steps, they are usually tailored to specific projects, and they aren’t always linear. 

“Risk mitigation can be broken into two components. There is the front end with risk identification and evaluation, and then there is the back end with risk mitigation and planning,” he said. 

Forman noted risk identification assesses the condition of the system, identifies potential risks and evaluates the probability of failure. 

“Step one of risk identification is system inventory,” Forman said. “This involves compiling background information, understanding the infrastructure and where things are located spatially and determining how things operate.” 

“The next step is to establish a rating and ranking system,” he continued, noting this is one of the most critical steps in the process. “By ranking things up front, we can prioritize and spend money wisely.” 

Forman said the next step is condition assessment, which involves an initial evaluation and meeting with a team of staff. Last, is conducting detailed inspections. 

“After going through the steps of risk identification, we have to identify what possible failure would look like, what the consequences would be, some maintenance procedures we might utilize, what we can do to maintain and extend the useful life of the infrastructure and some rehabilitation and replacement options,” he said.  

Benefits of risk mitigation

Forman noted there are several benefits of implementing a risk mitigation process. 

“First and foremost, we can prevent emergency situations from occurring and we don’t have to deal with the consequences of infrastructure failure,” he stated. 

“We can also maximize the useful life of the infrastructure, optimize the way we maintain the system and the way we incorporate rehabilitation into the system, minimize overall costs and overall, make the system more efficient and reliable,” he continued. 

Helpful legislation

In addition to taking steps to mitigate risk, Barrasso noted he has been working on legislation regarding Wyoming’s water. 

“Over the past couple of years, Congress passed two pieces of legislation that have had a direct impact on our water – the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan,” Barrasso said. “Both bills establish a framework for how Wyoming is going to manage our water resources in those particular areas for years to come.”

Barrasso went on to explain the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program is a prime example of how state and local stakeholders have come together to solve challenging water disputes. 

“The program was established in 2008 and was one of the first bills I worked on when I arrived in the Senate,” Barrasso said. “The bill authorized a cooperative agreement between Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska along with the Department of the Interior.” 

He continued, “The goal of the program was to recover endangered species, to establish long-term recovery habitat and to protect the ability of states to continue to manage their water without having lengthy litigation involved while doing it. The program creates certainty, not only for agriculture and other outdoor groups, but for towns and entities within the Platte River area as well.”

Barrasso noted when the authorization of the program came up for renewal last year, it took a lot of bipartisan effort with the House and Senate to get it signed into law at the end of 2019.

“Water policy is not a space for the faint of heart,” he said. “Water controversies are typically not partisan, but much more graphic and regional. However, getting it right is absolutely critical to our way of life in Wyoming, which is why I always depend on Wyoming’s ranchers, farmers and landowners to help show Washington, D.C. how to preserve, protect and manage one of our most critical resources.” 

Barrasso noted this was not only true with the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, but the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, which was passed by Congress in 2019, as well. 

“In addition to passing legislation to protect our own water resources, I have also been working on legislation to update Wyoming’s Water Infrastructure Act,” Barrasso stated. “This is critical to our prosperity and our economy.”

He explained earlier this year the Committee on Environmental and Public Works unanimously passed the American Water Infrastructure Act of 2020.

“The initiatives in this bill will improve navigation, provide for storm and flood damage reduction, expand hydropower development, provide for ecosystem restoration and increase water supply and storage in Wyoming and across the West,” Barrasso said. “This bill gives priority to critical rural projects and contains a comprehensive set of water storage sections, provisions to combat invasive species and reauthorizes water programs.” 

Barrasso noted the committee is also negotiating a bipartisan bill regarding drinking water infrastructure. 

“The Drinking Water Infrastructure Act contains an estimated $2.5 billion in authorization for drinking water infrastructure and reauthorizes the implementation of two percent of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to be used for technical assistance for nonprofit organizations,” he explained.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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