|Greybull River, downstream from Meeteetse, Wyoming. November 2009.|
Water law in Wyoming, and other western states, is very different than that of other states with more available water. There is only a limited amount of water available every year - that which falls from the sky, and that which has been stored from previous years. Wyoming is referred to as the 'top of the watershed,' as no rivers flow into the state - all its water is on its way out, and many downstream users want all they can get - Las Vegas, Colorado's Front Range, Arizona. The concepts of water law and water rights were just two of the subjects on which I had a learning curve when I started with the Roundup in 2006.
As the decades have passed, and as land has been passed down through family generations or sold, the original water right moves along with it, maintaining whatever year it was first assigned. That's known as its 'priority.'
Ever since those first homesteads, every new land with water use has been granted a water right. In some areas, no new water rights can be granted, as the local water supply has been 'fully appropriated.' In times of water shortage - drought years - water users submit a call for appropriation to the State Engineer's Office. It's then that the year of your water right is important - the earlier your water right, the better your chances are of getting water. Those with later water rights are just out of luck if the water supply runs out before their year comes up in priority.
As the years have passed, water law has become more and more complex, with complicated compacts and decrees signed with the surrounding states and other downstream users. As you can imagine, much time and money has been spent in court defending Wyoming's water supply, and making sure that our total amount doesn't get called downriver and away from Wyoming users.
|Pathfinder Dam, June 2010.|
So there's a little tip of the iceberg on water law and why it exists and why it's so important to Wyoming, and to agricultural producers in Wyoming.
This conference I'm at has addressed water topics, as well as endangered species, sage grouse, carbon sequestration, environmental regulation, the effects of EPA regulation on agricultural operations, instream flow for fisheries, animal welfare and beetle kill's impact on water sources. Needless to say, some topics are naturally more interesting than others, but most of the topics have been very educational, and I've gained a lot of material I can use in future editions of the Roundup.