Wyoming water: Omnibus planning, construction bills provide topics of discussion for WWA
In 2023, the Wyoming Water Association (WWA) has been busy watching the activities of the Wyoming Legislature, and in a weekly update on Feb. 8, WWA Executive Director Liberty Blair noted, “There is quite a bit of activity with the omnibus bills for construction and planning, as well as the Colorado River bills.”
All three bills offer significant impacts to Wyoming’s water users and have continued to progress through the legislative process.
Colorado River authority
House Bill (HB) 222, the Colorado River Advisory Committee, was introduced by Rep. Albert Sommers. Wyoming Water Development Office Planning Section Deputy Director Barry Lawrence noted the bill was agreed upon by the State Engineer’s Office (SEO) and serves to put into statute current activities of the state.
“The bill is basically codifying what’s already being done,” Lawrence explained. “There is a position in the bill that is under attack.”
HB 222 includes $200,000 in general funds, which serves to fund meeting activities, as well as an employee to assist with providing information and data to the committee and to act as a liaison between the state engineer and water users.
The Colorado River Working Group was put together in September 2021 in partnership between the Governor’s Office and SEO. The group has been meeting for several years, but this bill codifies their activity and provides funding, as well as a key person.
“The key here is the committee is advisory to the state,” Lawrence added.
On Feb. 9, HB 222 was re-referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee, but as of Feb. 16, it has not been scheduled to be heard.
Omnibus Water bill –
“We did have quite a bit of activity on House Bill 93, the Omnibus Water Bill for Construction,” said Blair.
In the Senate Ag Committee, the bill was passed, then later reconsidered in the same meeting on Feb. 8 to add $75 million into Water Account III – the dam and reservoir account.
The bill was also amended to remove Board of Control funding from water accounts, and instead, fund the Board of Control from the general fund.
After passing the Senate, the bill was sent to concurrence committee, and in the Concurrence Message, the Senate noted, “It is the intent of the legislature that funds appropriated to the State Engineer for the Board of Control Division shall be made from the general fund in the 2025-26 fiscal biennium and any subsequent fiscal biennium.”
Concurrence was scheduled for discussion late on Feb. 16.
Lawrence noted much of the current conversation in the Wyoming Legislature is based on Senate File 96, which is the Omnibus Water Bill for Planning.
The planning bill authorizes funding for level I and level II studies for water projects across the state.
“In addition, there is also a position for Colorado River activities in the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) in the bill, as well as $500,000 consulting services for the Green River study,” Lawrence said. “This bill is pretty politically charged, with Board of Control and Colorado River issues all wrapped into it.”
Currently, the planning bill is sitting with the House Appropriations Committee, where it was referred on Feb. 6.
“The bill was received by the House for introduction, and we fully expected it to go to House Ag, but it did not go to House Ag,” Lawrence explained. “Instead, it went straight to House Appropriations. They skipped a step.”
Typically, water bills go to House Ag Committee, then are re-referred to House Appropriations.
The House Appropriations Committee, in discussions on Feb. 7, had concerns with the idea of getting the Board of Control out of water accounts.
Further, the committee believed using the omnibus bill to take this action was inappropriate, and instead, thought such action should be taken through the budget bill.
Additionally, the committee cited the position for the employee in the WWDO should have also gone through the budget bill.
“Those two things were driven by the Select Water Committee,” Lawrence noted.
He further noted there are three bills separately addressing a position in WWDO to handle Colorado River issues – one in the omnibus planning bill, one in the general appropriations bill and one in HB 222, which deals with the Colorado River Advisory Committee.
“There is a lot of confusion for what’s going on,” Lawrence said. “On Feb. 7, the committee laid the planning bill back and asked the WWDO director and Wyoming state engineer to put together a white paper on the different positions, what each position would do and why they are needed.”
Look for updates in next week’s edition of the Roundup, as well as additional information on bills of importance to the Wyoming agriculture community.
Saige Zespy is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.