From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 11 - June 12, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Transbasin diversion proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

Although a group of about 40 western Wyoming residents spent several years in drafting a plan for future water use in the Green River Basin, one state water official has made an end-run around the group, proposing that Green River Basin water be used to bail out North Platte River water users suffering from the effects of drought and a lawsuit settlement agreement orchestrated by Governor Jim Geringer just before he left office.

According to a memo written by Wyoming Water Development Director Mike Besson, his office is conducting an in-house analysis to determine the feasibility of delivering Green River Basin water to the North Platte River Basin.

"The adverse drought-related consequences experienced by North Platte River water users, the potential for increased demand for water relative to Platte River endangered-species issues, and Wyoming's water replacement obligations pursuant to the recent settlement of the Nebraska v. Wyoming lawsuit provide the incentive," Besson explained in the memo to Governor Dave Freudenthal. "The trick is to transport the water from areas of surplus, such as the Green River Basin, to areas in need of additional water, such as the North Platte River Basin."

The February memo noted that water development engineers were analyzing several trans-basin diversion alternatives to bring 30,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of Green River water to the North Platte Basin. Alternatives include diverting water from the Little Sandy River and possibly from the East Fork of the New Fork River by gravity to the Sweetwater River. Other options include pumping water from Fontenelle Reservoir to the Sweetwater River and from the Green River below the City of Green River to the North Platte Basin near Rawlins.

The Besson memo notes: "If sufficient interest exists and water users in the Green River Basin are receptive to the concept, and if approved by the legislature and by you, the Water Development Office analysis and report will be followed by a level II study to further screen alternatives. It may be expensive and a fatal flaw may later be identified, but I now believe the project is doable and so do the Wyoming Water Development Commissioners. The endangered species and Clean Water Act issues will be thorny, but can be overcome."

Big Piney rancher and water guru Dan Budd, who was recently appointed to the Water Development Commission and has served on about every water-oriented commission or board that's ever addressed Green River Basin water, was outraged about the memo and its implications.

"I'm very upset about it," Budd said, stating that it was extremely improper for a state agency to initiate such a proposal before water development proponents could complete the formation of a joint powers board to sponsor development projects. The joint powers agreement for such an entity has just been approved by several western Wyoming counties, and appointments to the entity will be made in the following months.

Budd said state officials told him that water-storage projects couldn't be suggested until such an entity was formed, but that apparently wasn't the case since the state is initiating this action.

"That's arrogance at its most," Budd said, when government looks at a trans-basin diversion "to satisfy a fiasco that was created by government."

Budd said it's an affront that the trans-basin diversion was proposed without any input from within the Green River Basin. Budd said he most certainly supports development projects to allocate the use of Wyoming's Green River water allocation within the state's borders, but "under our terms, not under theirs."

Boulder's Randy Bolgiano was a member of the Green River Basin Advisory Group that worked four years under the auspices of the WWDC to develop a plan for Green River Basin water. He also participated in the Colorado River Basin Coordinating Council and was a player in pushing western Wyoming counties to form a joint powers board to sponsor applications for future water development projects in the region.

Bolgiano is chagrined about the end-run of the group that worked so diligently in crafting the water plan.

"We want our needs encompassed and recognized," Bolgiano said. "Otherwise this basin planning process becomes a dog-and-pony show if the Water Development Commission can sidestep it."

Bolgiano said he's not opposed to trans-basin diversions, but wants the state to heed the existing plan's set of priorities, of which trans-basin diversions fall in dead last.

Bolgiano said Besson repeatedly and adamantly told the group, "Don't send me something we can't do," such as storage in the Upper Green River region because of the issues involved, yet Besson's letter dismisses these institutional issues as being thorny but can be overcome.

Bolgiano said the state needs to look at projects that benefit everyone's needs, rather than taking from one area to help save another.

As Bolgiano wrote in a letter to Freudenthal about the issue: " His change of heart seems a bit disingenuous as he solicits your support in a trans-basin project, but is good to know that we are all of one mind about the issue now, and in that spirit I encourage us to undertake water development in the Green River Basin with a confidence and vigor born of the conviction that we can indeed make our wishes reality, and meet the needs of all the people of the state, according to their plan."

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