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

Where’s The Water?

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

We feel pretty lucky here in Wyoming as we are the headwaters state of a number of major rivers. With the ongoing hydrological drought, we may have a number of down-river states and Mexico looking to rob us of our water. 

I’ve always felt wet years are the time to plan for a drought, even though it is harder to focus on drought planning when producers have water running everywhere. Here we are, in the start of a third year of drought, and the down-river states on the Colorado River system want answers and more water now. Utah, Arizona, California and Nevada all badly need water, and don’t forget, Mexico wants water, too.

I do find fault with the desert states in the Southwestern parts of America wanting more water for lush, green lawns, fountains and swimming pools. They really show their ignorance as they point their fingers and set their sights on taking water from agriculture. Also remember, these Southwestern states produce a lot of food for America.

Diverting water to the Lower Basin states is a lot like asking Wyoming for some of their coal, oil or natural gas. Throughout the years, there have been some agreements, compacts and treaties with Mexico governing Colorado River water; but mostly, it has been the states getting together with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) to come up with an agreement. As one can guess, the Upper Basin states differ from the Lower Basin states over management objectives. 

In past years, some have thought the Green River was under appropriated, but in truth, this wasn’t the case. Due to a number of reasons, Wyoming State Engineer Brandon Gebhart has informed the Wyoming Water Development Office and the Wyoming Water Development Commission there needs to be a study with a goal to have a defensible consumptive use number to present to other states. 

We should be able to tell the acre feet of water leaving the state, but figuring out the loss of water involved in the infrastructure will be a lot harder, especially if we have good rainfall.

A large issue for Wyoming is figuring out how to keep the federal government from instigating a knee-jerk reaction which would really hurt Wyoming agriculture. On Oct. 25, the Department of Interior announced it will consider revising a set of guidelines for operating Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This action could lead to a federal action to protect these important, and now shrinking, lakes so vital to the Southwestern states. 

The public has until Dec. 20 to consider three options seeking to keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell from dropping so low they couldn’t produce power or provide the water seven Western states, Tribal lands and Mexico depend on. One of the options would allow the BuRec to take unilateral action on the Colorado River and its tributaries. 

If the public is involved, remember, Wyoming has a population of 584,309, and the Southwestern states have populations of over 30 million – guess who is going to win the fight.

Let’s just hope we have a great snowpack this winter and a wet spring before the federal government does something drastic.

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