From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 9 - May 26, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Compact meeting held

by Cat Urbigkit

The Wyoming State Engineer's Office and Alternate Upper Colorado River Commissioners Dan Budd and Ben Bracken hosted the first of three public meetings regarding Colorado River Compact issues in Pinedale Tuesday evening. The session drew a crowd of concerned water users from all perspectives.

State Engineer Pat Tyrrell opened the session by noting that as of last fall, Lake Powell had dropped to 38 percent of capacity. Lake Powell has not been this low since 1970 and this is cause for alarm since the purpose of this reservoir is to ensure that the upper basin states can comply with compact provisions.

If Wyoming can't meet the nondepletion clause of the compact, there is a provision that calls for water use curtailment, Tyrrell noted, but the state has no plan in place for how to handle such a curtailment.

"It's several years out, if it should occur at all," Tyrrell emphasized. "Even if we never need to use it, the state needs to have a plan on the shelf."

The Upper Colorado River Compact provision dealing with curtailment states that curtailment quantities and timing will be determined, but not administered by, the Upper Colorado River Commission. Each state is to administer its share of the curtailment.

"There has never been and there may never be a need to limit use to meet a curtailment obligation under the Upper Colorado compact," Tyrrell said.

The ongoing drought and low storage content a possible curtailment call. Tyrrell noted that all four states in the Upper Basin are going through same process and holding similar discussions.

Mike Purcell, the water planner contracted by the state to assist in the planning process, explained the assumptions the planning effort is working under:

The first assumption is that if a curtailment call is issued, the state engineer and attorney general will determine if the curtailment is valid and enforceable before any action is taken.

A curtailment would focus on beneficial consumptive use, not diversions, storage or acreage.

The baseline for compliance with a curtailment will be the previous year's consumptive use, not each state's entitlement under the compact.

Water rights prior to the 1922 compact signing are excluded from the curtailment.

The prior appropriation doctrine is the only tool presently available to state engineer to administer curtailment.

Curtailment could require the administration of post-Compact rights. Curtailment would probably be basinwide.

While pre-Compact rights would not be administered off, normal water right administration or hydrologic conditions may result in less use by the pre-Compact rights in the year of curtailment.

Consumptive use calculations need to quantify the annual consumptive use resulting from post-Compact water rights throughout the basin.

Any indirect reduction in use of pre-Compact water rights should be quantified and credited towards the curtailment.

Wyoming needs to develop water use information annually.

There can be big discrepancies in estimates of annual consumptive uses, even between agencies. For example, the year 2000 estimate for Wyoming's share of Upper Colorado River water was set at 398,000 acre-feet by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In contrast, the Green River Basin Water Planning process undertaken by the Wyoming Water Development Commission set the estimate at 521,000 acre-feet.

The state's draft plan emphasizes the need for solid information.

Purcell said his philosophy is this: "It is not good business to rely on information generated by others in the event of a controversy."

Wyoming needs to be the leading authority on its water use, he said, adding that it should be a long-term goal of the state to develop a comprehensive annual water use monitoring program.

"We don't want to curtail one acre-foot than we need to" Purcell said.

The draft plan includes the following short-term recommendations:

Develop comprehensive tabulations of water rights sorted by priority dates and use.

Obtain annual water use from municipalities and industries.

Improve storage water monitoring.

Initiate a more systematic water use reporting process by State Engineer's Office field personnel.

Condition future non-irrigation permits with annual water use reporting requirements.

Monitor irrigation water use. Irrigation use constitutes about 75 percent of Wyoming's in-basin use. Consumption of irrigation water is the portion of consumptive use not met by local precipitation.

"Ag use is not only our biggest use, but also the most difficult to measure," Tyrrell said. There are several options for improving irrigation use data collection, with set-up costs ranging from $20,000 to $250,000 and annual costs ranging from $3,000 to $400,000.

The draft plan calls for improved data collection relating to acreage, crop type and irrigation duration through field sampling, with set-up costs estimated at $60,000 and an annual cost of $77,000.

Tyrrell said that the Bear and Platte drainages are currently subject to a heck of a lot more monitoring and measuring than is the Green River Basin.

"It's coming to the Green a little later than it's come to other areas," Tyrrell said.

The draft plan includes three mitigation options for use in the event of a curtailment. One option includes marketing deals involving storage water, Purcell said. Temporary water use agreements would be another way to buffer the effect of basinwide water administration. A third option would be tapping into groundwater resources.

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