Demand on Wyoming water rises — the Wyoming News #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

From the Wyoming News (Trevor Brown):

…with a historic drought hitting California and much of the Southwest, parts of the river have reached their driest points in hundreds of years.

And this increased demand on the river is causing Wyoming, along with the other western states, to take notice.

“Anything that puts more pressure on the Colorado River should be a concern for all the states, including Wyoming,” said Douglas Kenney, who heads the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “There is only so much water to go around.”

Wyoming’s water managers say the Cowboy State hasn’t been directly affected by the water shortage in the downstream states.

This is because a nearly 100-year-old interstate compact ensures Wyoming can use a predetermined amount of the water that flows through its borders.

“Anytime a drought occurs in our country, it is worth watching,” said Harry LaBonde, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission. “But if you are asking if California is going to demand more water from Wyoming, the answer is no.”

LaBonde and other state officials say the western drought, and the threat that the situation could worsen, is still enough of a concern that Wyoming should see the situation as a warning and take steps to safeguard its own water supplies.

This is partly what prompted Gov. Matt Mead to include a plan in his recently announced statewide water strategy to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years.

Nephi Cole, a policy adviser to the governor, said it’s important for the state to begin planning these projects, which can take years and millions of dollars to complete, so Wyoming isn’t caught off guard in the future.

“The challenge is many times when you need a water project and you realize you are in a really dry year, it is already too late,” he said…

Wyoming and the “Law of the River”

Unlike much of southeast Wyoming, several western parts of the state don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on plentiful groundwater resources.

That means many municipal water systems, agricultural users and other industries largely depend on the Green River, which is the main tributary of the Colorado River, to meet their needs.

The 730-mile waterway begins in the Wind River Range of Sublette County and travels south into Utah before it connects with the Colorado River.

In total, a drop of water that starts in Wyoming could travel through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California.

So, who owns that droplet of water?

That hotly contentious question was largely answered by a 1922 interstate deal known formally as the Colorado River Compact. This, combined with a complex series of other compacts, federal laws, court decisions and decrees, make up what is colloquially referred to as “The Law of the River.”[…]

It goes on to say that Wyoming is allowed to use 14 percent of the 7.5 million acre-feet of the upper-basin states’ allocation. That amount is equal to more than 342 billion gallons – or the equivalent of 517,844 Olympic-sized swimming pools – of water…

Cooperation and tension

David Modeer is the president of the Colorado River Water Users Association, a nonprofit group made up of the states and other groups that rely on the waterway.

He said all seven of the states have been working together through the years on a number of projects to preserve the water supply.

For example, many of the lower-basin states have provided some funding for cloud-seeding projects, which are designed to bring more precipitation, in the Rocky Mountain states.

More Green River Basin coverage here.

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