The future of Wyoming’s water- part 1

Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 6:48 PM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) -As the state continues to grow, so does the concern over water.

As lawmakers, the Water Commission and Gov. Mark Gordon hone in on ensuring we have enough to cover our needs; Wyoming looks at conservation, upholding our water agreements, and the future of water.

Matt Sussex, Owner of Bear Mountian Beef INC., meat processing, says the drought we’ve seen in the last few years is hitting agricultural folks hard.

For him, it reduces the forage for his cows and the cattle quality while increasing the production cost.

“These droughts the last few years have meant a huge increase in ranchers selling out, cattle leaving the country. So now, as a whole across the United States, we have a shortage in our cow herd,” said Sussex.

As a headwater state, Wyoming’s water is limited to what Mother Nature provides and downstream state obligations.

These historically include either the seven interstate compacts that Wyoming is a party to in the Upper Colorado River and three decrees or litigated agreements that Wyoming is subject to in the North Platt River.

These compacts mandate water sharing with neighboring states.

“We have to meet our obligations, and that requires that we have a certain amount to contribute to the system, even in the driest of years,” said Brandon Gebhart, Wyoming State Engineer.

Most compacts specify amounts and not percentages which officials say could cause trouble in the future.

“There are some streams in our state that are regulated every year. Which means there’s not enough water to satisfy the demands of a particular stream. These include the Bear River, which is a compact between Wyoming and Idaho that goes into regulation every year,” said Gebhart.

Since the 1970s, the state and federal governments have funded projects with the Water Development Commission that improve efficiencies and storage for proper distribution throughout the year.

Others rebuild aging infrastructure.

But since 2000, experts say we have seen some of the worst drought conditions ever.

So working with other states to meet water demands is imperative.

“Colorado River we’re still working within the compact to try to resolve the deficits and the lack of water to meet the demands in the entire system so we’re continuing to work with the seven basin states on a regular bases to resolve the issues that the drier climates are providing in that basin as well as the overuse in some of the basin,” said Gebhart.

The drought trend has led to the draft supplemental environmental impact statement of the seven states or the S.E.I.S. of the seven.

The study looks at ways to explore additional tools to manage and operate Lake Powell and Lake Mead to address dwindling water supplies to meet demands.

To further address shortages and protect water infrastructure and safety while helping the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure hydropower production and water to the Colorado River Basin.

Forty million Americans are affected.

With climate change, stream flows come earlier, meaning departments will need new infrastructure to catch that water to dole out throughout the late-season irrigation and the funding to build it.

We will continue to look into how water affects our bottom line in our next chapter.