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Wyoming Water Development Commission Winter 1997

Water plan feasibility study underway

In this issue...

Words from the director

Mike Besson, Director
Water Development Commission

Welcome to the "Water Planning News," the newsletter for participants in Wyoming's water planning feasibility study.

As director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission, I want to take a few paragraphs to explain what we're doing in the area of water planning, and to encourage you to continue to participate in the planning process.

As you may know, the Water Development Commission and the State Engineer's Office have been directed by the Legislature to prepare a report for updating the 1973 Framework Water Plan.

Why is a new plan needed?

A lot of things have changed since the last water plan was written.

Wyoming needs current information in each river basin in the state to efficiently manage existing water resources, and to develop currently unused water. Good decisions on issues such as protection of existing water rights, water conservation and reuse, instream flows, and the role of water in economic development require that policy makers have accurate data to work with. Wyoming must plan now to have the water we need to meet future demands.

The state also needs better data so water managers can respond to the requirements of federal laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. These laws and accompanying regulations weren't even in existence in 1973 when the last water plan was completed.

Population growth and other demands in downstream states like Nevada and California may have those states looking at Wyoming water allocations. We need solid facts and sound planning to protect and manage our current supplies. Other western states have aggressive water planning programs in place. Wyoming doesn't.

The Wyoming Legislature recognized these needs when they authorized the Water Development Commission and the State Engineer's Office to conduct a feasibility study to determine the cost and the best methods to use in implementing a new water planning process.

To insure that all water interests are represented, we have established a Scoping Group with representatives from state agencies with water or related land use responsibilities. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Public Lands, Game and Fish, Environmental Quality, and the State Engineer's Office are represented on the scoping group.

We plan to form Basin Advisory Groups and hold public meetings to encourage individuals and private interest groups to participate in the process.

We are scheduled to present the results of the study and recommendations for water planning implementation to the Legislature in 1999.

Survey results to be available soon

One of the first activities of the current water planning feasibility study was the development of a survey questionnaire which was sent to over 1750 Wyoming citizens.

A mailing list in excess of 3,500 names was developed from a variety of sources, and each person on that list was invited to participate in the survey and to nominate others to receive the questionnaire.

Ultimately, 1,779 surveys were mailed out, and as of November first, 1,399 had been returned. The questionnaire was administered by the Survey Research Center (SRC) at the University Wyoming. The SRC provided WWDC with the tabulated results, but made no interpretation of the data.

The results of the survey will be mailed out to everyone on the current mailing list (approximately 1,780). If you received a questionnaire, you will get a copy of the results whether or not you returned your questionnaire.

Anyone wanting a copy of the results may contact the Wyoming Water Development Commission at 307-777-7626.

History of Wyoming's water planning process

The Wyoming Water Development Program, which is administered by the Water Development Commission, was created by the 1975 Wyoming Legislature.

The Commission, created by separate legislation in 1979, is charged with responsibility for "...the planning, selection, financing, construction, acquisition, and operation of projects and facilities for the conservation, storage, distribution and use of water, necessary in the public interest to develop and preserve Wyoming's water and related land resources."

The Water Development Program evolved in response to the expressed needs of Wyoming citizens. Project feasibility studies and project construction became the program focus. The program has been project-driven, responding to applications to assist entities in meeting water supply needs. Only rarely was a state-sponsored project initiated to address long range planning issues. These projects were often development oriented - an inventory of water use, an identification of water availability, and potential reservoir storage sites.

The Water Development Program has been very responsive to the water supply needs of Wyoming citizens. As of the 1997 legislative session, the Commission has provided direct project assistance to 180 public entities - municipalities, water districts, irrigation districts, joint powers boards, counties and public entities.

Since the formation of the first Water Planning Program under the State Engineer's Office in 1967, the responsible management of the state's water resources has become increasingly complex. Federal legislation such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the regulations generated by agencies administering these acts have greatly increased the time and money required for project implementation, and in some cases, have blocked or significantly altered water projects proposed by the state.

Instate water issues such as conservation and reuse, protection of existing water rights, security for agricultural uses, instream flows, the role of water in economic development, domestic and municipal water uses, and industrial water projections will also be addressed in the water planning process.

Water management technology has also exploded in the last 20 years. Geographical Information Systems, remote sensing techniques, and computer modeling capabilities were not available to the past generation of water planners. The availability of these tools to today's resource managers presents opportunities to conduct sophisticated water planning to assure that Wyoming citizens will have an adequate supply of good quality water when and where they need it, and that other resources are not significantly degraded by those uses.

The last Wyoming Framework Water Plan was published in 1973. While still a valuable resource, technological advances and changing political and regulatory conditions in water resource management indicate that Wyoming would benefit from implementation of modern water planning process. In 1996, the Legislature directed the Water Development Office and the State Engineer's Office to prepare a report which was to document the resources it would take to update the "Framework Water Plan."

A report was developed by the two agencies and submitted to the Water Development Commission, the Select Water Committee, and Governor Jim Geringer in October of 1996. In the 1997 legislative session, the Water Development Office received an appropriation of $250,000 to conduct a two-phase feasibility study to develop strategies for addressing both the technological components of a modern water planning process, and the parallel development of public participation in the planning effort.

This effort was launched shortly after the 1997 Legislative Session with the formation of Scoping and Work groups to advise the WWDC-SEO planning team and provide technical expertise as necessary. The parallel processes of technological review and public participation began with the planning team reviewing water planning work in other states and consulting with experts in various fields such as remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems, water resource modeling, etc.

The 1997 Omnibus Water Bill stipulated that the University of Wyoming would provide assistance during the feasibility study. The Wyoming Water Resources Center at the University of Wyoming is providing staff assistance, and is under contract with WWDC for technical assistance including the completion of a state-wide data inventory.

Meanwhile, the scoping group focused on the first phase of the Public Involvement Component by identifying over 3500 individuals who had in some way indicated an interest in resource management. These individuals were sent a letter requesting their participation in the process. About 1200 responded expressing interest, and an additional 350 were nominated to participate. On September 8, over 1750 survey questionnaires were sent to these individuals asking them to identify and prioritize water planning issues.

A second copy of the survey was sent to non-respondents on October 6. WWDC has received over 1750 completed questionnaires. The Survey Research Center at the University of Wyoming has tabulated results and released a preliminary summary report which is covered in an article elsewhere in this newsletter.

WWDC selects Bear River Basin for feasibility demonstration project

The Water Development Commission has selected the Bear River as a demonstration project basin to be addressed in the feasibility study.

We believe that a feasibility demonstration project is a critical component of the planning process. A demonstration project will serve the following functions:

  1. Identify costs of obtaining and benefits of using various types of data including remote sensing technologies, aerial photography, satellite imagery, data interpretation software, and water resources modeling technology.

  2. Determine the effects of data availability and of the use of various alternative technologies on the costs of implementing the planning process.

  3. Allow the planning team to adjust resource needs and process schedules in advance of proposing a planning process to the Governor and the 1999 Wyoming Legislature.

  4. Gain feedback and provide for public involvement through the formation of basin advisory groups, and the use of other outreach and public involvement techniques.

  5. Test planning assumptions "on the ground" by working towards an actual basin plan.

  6. Develop a demonstration product for presentation to the public, and to the Governor and Legislature.

  7. Encourage participation of interest groups and state agencies to develop a comprehensive planning approach.

  8. Serve as a tool to raise the profile of the planning process and create the opportunity to develop consent among various water users and water interest groups for the implementation of the planning process.
The planning team also believes it is important to have sample product to accompany the recommendations to be presented to the Governor and Legislature in 1999.

The Bear River Basin was selected using the following criteria:

Overriding suitability issues. Certain basins were eliminated from consideration because of lawsuits, Tribal negotiations, difficult interstate issues, or compact considerations.

Availability of data. Since the feasibility study has a limited budget, a basin where data in a GIS format are already available would allow a more comprehensive and sophisticated sample product to be developed. Some basins which are data rich may be eliminated for other reasons, and some data acquisition may be necessary to determine costs, benefits, and compatibility of various technologies and data bases.

Probability of a "successful" demonstration product. One important reason to do a demonstration product is to learn from mistakes, so "successful" is not the same as universally accepted. The basin selected should fairly test all aspects of the proposed planning process, including public acceptance.

Representative of other basins. Each of the seven major river basins in Wyoming has its own unique characteristics in regards to hydrology, interstate issues, demographics, and economy. Our research finds that water issues are fairly consistent from basin to basin and even state to state.

Basin size and hydrologic complexity. Budgetary constraints may limit the amount of work that could be completed in a large, complex basin like the Green River. A smaller basin is more likely to yield a complete product which can be fairly evaluated by the Governor and the Legislature.

Feasibility work in the Bear River Basin will begin with the identification of a basin coordinating group, public meetings and a basin data inventory process.

Anyone interested in participating in the basin group should contact the Water Development Commission at 777-7626.

What the water planning process could do...

Give Wyoming the tools to manage our water for the benefit of all users, and to put us on equal footing with other states in the West.

Unite Wyoming water users and water interest groups to respond to external influences on water management decisions

Create a water information data base with timely and accurate information which can be used to defend the State's apportionments and allocations

Provide Wyoming citizens with a forum for discussion of water issues

Make water information available in a variety of formats for planning and educational purposes

Offer a fresh perspective and a new approach to solving old problems

The process will proceed under current state water law and the prior appropriation doctrine

And what it won't...

The process won't change the prior appropriation doctrine or state water law.

The process won't change the way water management decisions are made, nor will it change the people who make those decisions.

The process won't favor one water user at the expense of another

The process won't affect existing individual water rights

Want more information on the water planning process?

The Water Planning Team can provide information on the water planning process in several formats.

If you did not receive this newsletter directly, you can ask to be placed on the mailing list for future publications.

Your group can request that a member of the planning team attend one of your meetings, make a presentation about the planning process, and respond directly to your questions.

If you want a copy of the results of the survey, and did not get a copy of the original questionnaire, you can request a copy.

If you want any of these services, or have any other questions or comments, contact:

Wyoming Water Development Commission, 4th Floor, Herschler Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002 or call 307-777-7626.

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