From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 16 - July 14, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Valuing Green River water

by Cat Urbigkit

Placing a value on Green River water was the center of much discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the Green River Basin Advisory Group in Rock Springs.

A study is being conducted in an attempt to determine the economic values of water in the basin. The study, being conducted under a $148,000 contract with the Wyoming Water Development Commission, was funded by the Wyoming Legislature, with ECONorthwest of Oregon the consultant charged with the task.

The study will examine the array of uses and functions of water, both competitive and complementary; distinguish among the different types of values; consider both priced and unpriced values; and take a snapshot of values now, while considering trends and looking to the future.

The study will attempt to quantify and estimate the values of all the uses of Green River water.

"Basically, we are trying to gather answers," said Chace Tavellli, a water resources engineer with WWDC.

"Every person will have a hat to throw in this ring" Tavelli said.

Ernie Niemi of ECONorthwest of Eugene, Ore., is the team leader for the study, and has developed a study team that includes Gary Watts of Watts and Associates, Jeff Fassett of Fassett Consulting, and Mark Eatinger and Chad Espenscheid of Rio Verde Engineering.

WWDC's Dan Budd of Big Piney pointed out that the value of water is dependent on where you are and what use you are making of it.

"This is a very broad, complex issue," Budd said. He urged those interested in the issue to provide input, but added that when considering setting values, the value is for the people of the state of Wyoming, not for those outside the state's borders.

"We need to confine it to those needs within the basin," Budd said, "for Wyoming's benefit, for Wyoming people. Don't stray beyond that."

Niemi agreed, stating, ""We are not looking at the value of our water to Las Vegas."

The next stage of the study will be for the study team to select a few high-profile places within the basin to use as case study areas. Eatinger said the team would like to have three to six such sites within the basin. Eatinger said for distribution, the team split the basin into several arbitrary areas. The Pinedale area and the west slope of the Wind River Mountains is an area with more storage and fewer shortages of water for irrigation than other areas of the basin. This area's water uses include recreation, fishing, instream flow, agriculture and mineral development.

A second region of the basin is the east slope of the Wyoming Range, which is known for its lack of storage and greater probability of irrigation water shortages.

A third area of the basin is the Bridger Valley, which is a very agricultural-based economy.

The Eden/Farson area is another distinct region of the basin, with its conversion from flood irrigation to sprinklers and its salinity control efforts.

The Rock Springs region includes major reservoirs, and recreation and mineral uses of water.

The Baggs region includes some flood irrigation, some sprinklers and has coalbed methane development to its list of energy-related water issues.

One person in the audience asked if the results of the study will be to re-adjust water rates for various water users, noting that he felt Wyoming water is undervalued.

The study participants replied that the program is not tied to pricing at all, but Eatinger pointed out that when it comes to storage projects, agriculture can't afford the high costs associated with such projects alone. Since other uses also benefit from storage, perhaps the results of the study will help define what contribution these uses should make to these projects.

Defining values for some uses will be difficult, Niemi admitted.

Niemi said, "Utilitarian values are measured in terms of willingness to pay, or alternatively on what are you willing to have as compensation to give up what you already have."

But there is also an intrinsic value of the water as it goes down the stream, Niemi said, and a value in knowing that it's been used on landscape for many years, creating an oasis on which a community was built.

"There are intrinsic issues associated with the existence of something," Niemi said. "Value has a lot of different dimensions."

For more information on the study, which is set to be completed by June 2006, contact Tavelli at 307-777-7626.

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