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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Worth Fighting Over

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Dennis Sun

Water is taken for granted in our region, that is, until the creeks and rivers start to dry up. Our mountain states are very lucky as we’re headwaters states. We appreciate the fact we don’t have to rely on other states to receive surface water. 

Those in the southwestern part of the country are currently in trouble over lack of water this spring. In fact, it’s so bad, Las Vegas may have to shut down its fountains, God forbid. But it is a tragedy for the vast farmlands of Arizona and other agricultural lands relying on the Colorado River. Agriculture is now battling with communities over water in those areas.

We’re really fortunate in Wyoming to have the water laws we do; the water rights stay with the land. In Colorado, one can split the water from the land, and I feel this is bad for everyone except for those who live along the Front Range in need of water. 

I feel one of the best uses of the approved infrastructure dollars is to build more dams in the headwaters states, as storing water high in the river system is the best conservation practice there is. We also need to develop more irrigated lands in the headwaters of major rivers like the Green River and North Platte. 

We have to realize the West wouldn’t have been settled as fast as it was without the building of dams in rivers and streams. The early settlers in the West knew there was no way to make a living on the land without a stored water source. 

In Wyoming, towns like Worland, Powell, Riverton, Torrington and Wheatland are all in large irrigation districts. They really don’t have booms and busts, but the economic barometer in those towns is the large number of banks they have. It is proof stored irrigation water is money.

Some sports fishermen want ranchers and farmers to not irrigate and just let the water flush down the stream, they don’t realize the stream will dry up quicker without irrigation. There is also a program in Wyoming where through “demand management,” a community downstream may lease water for up to five years. This has happened over on the Green River. 

Those who irrigate realize spreading water on permitted lands will produce a return flow. This return flow can be used over and over down the stream. I, along with others, have built numerous structures on streams to back the water up to soak up in the riparian area like a sponge, which in turn releases the water as the stream recedes through the summer, and it works.

The experts on return flow are those irrigators in the upper parts of rivers such as the Green River, Little Snake River and the North Platte River. These upper irrigated hay fields should never have a call or restriction on them, as these soaked up fields will produce return flows for some time during the summer. 

These potential dams, along with some good, wet mountain snowfalls in the spring, will help ensure water for all

Water is a treasure, as they say, “It’s worth fighting over.” Just be thankful we live in a headwaters state.

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