From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 44 - January 27, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Instream flow reform proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

Wyoming's instream flow law would undergo massive reform if legislation urged by Lander Senator Cale Case gains support. Case is the primary sponsor of two senate bills, Senate Files 106 and 107, that would make major changes to Wyoming's instream flow law. Both the bills have been referred to the Senate Ag Committee.

SF106 would create temporary instream flow rights. The bill would establish a new state policy "to encourage temporary transfers in order to maximize the beneficial use of water and to provide for more effective water management, particularly in times of drought. A person or entity may acquire or transfer by purchase, gift, lease or other form of conveyance the right to temporarily use water which may be embraced in any adjudicated or valid unadjudicated water right, or any portion thereof, for a period of not to exceed two years, for irrigation, municipal, instream uses or other purposes."

Any two-year transfer of a water right could be renewed without limitation.

SF107 is the instream flow reform bill. This bill would have the Environmental Quality Council in charge of filing applications for instream flows, in addition to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. It would declare instream flows a beneficial use of water and would allow for water appropriations for instream flows "to establish, maintain or improve fisheries and habitat." It would remove the "minimum flow" language in existing law and replace it with "the amount necessary to establish or maintain fisheries and habitat."

The draft bill states "water quality, aquatic and riparian habitat improvement and groundwater recharge are declared to be beneficial uses." The bill would allow the state to acquire water rights for instream flows "by transfer, gift, lease or purchase from willing sellers." The board of control would be called on to regulate a stream "to protect or affirm the priority of an instream flow right."

Both of these bills are sponsored by Case and Decaria in the Senate and Representatives Gay, Thompson and Zwonitzer in the House.

A third bill dealing with instream flows is SF56, the temporary water use by municipalities bill, sponsored by the Select Water Committee. The bill would allow municipalities to use or release water for instream flows use on a temporary basis.

SF 56 passed first reading in the Senate Tuesday, with very little discussion.

"The amendments are pretty restrictive to what the town can do. I think that it will work and that everyone will profit from it," Senator Pat Aullman said. "The thing that helps and protects the agricultural community are the words 'the right for instream flow uses provided that no other appropriator is injured.' This allows for the Town of Pinedale to improve and to get full use of the stream that flows through Pinedale."

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