From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 32 - November 2, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Committee kills Pinedale water bill

by Rhonda Swain

At a meeting in Sundance last week, the Joint Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee’s proposed legislation called Instream flow – Fremont Lake pilot project, failed. The bill was killed in committee by a vote of nine to three.

Several Sublette County residents attended the meetings, which were held Thursday and Friday, Oct. 26 and 27.

Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith attended Thursday’s meeting.

“The proposal did not make it out of committee,” Mayor Smith said. “It will not be introduced as a bill. I was disappointed because I was looking forward for the townspeople to have something to comment on regarding the pilot project. Now the town and residents won’t have the opportunity to comment on the issue.”

House District 22 Representative Monte Olsen commented that although the joint committee killed the bill, an individual legislator could still bring up the issue and introduce a bill during the legislative session next year.

Olsen said county residents’ attendance helped “Make the difference. ... that people from Sublette County went to Sundance and expressed their views ... that made a difference.”

Olsen said he called some committee members personally and sent a letter to all of them via the Legislative Service Office.

“I wanted to relate that I’m against it,” Olsen said.

Part of Olsen’s Letter

You will be discussing an instream flow pilot project. As a representative from the area in question I would like to express some concerns over the legislation.

The first question is whether this is a project that the citizens of Pinedale want. On May 2 of this year, Pinedale residents voted on whether to enter into an agreement with the Wyoming Water Development Commission to sell water storage rights in Fremont Lake for use as instream flow in Pine Creek for the price of $10. The vote was 229 against and 130 in favor. This would indicate that in a fair election, the citizens of Pinedale do not feel this should be done.

The next question deals with public policy on instream flow. Wyoming’s instream flow law carefully establishes criteria whereby instream flows should be established. This circumvents the process in several ways. Wyoming’s instream flow law requires a determination of the minimum amount necessary for the fisheries. This law just turns some water loose. The instream flow law requires an establishment of an area (stream reach) necessary for the fisheries. This law suggests the stream reach through Pinedale.

Furthermore, as a pilot project, it suggests that based on the outcome of the project, Wyoming water law should be changed permanently. Again, this is a big policy consideration, which may have extended consequences.

Given the vote on May 2 and the changes to water policy contemplated by this draft legislation, I cannot see the compelling reason to begin down this path.

Town Council Member David Smith also attended the meeting Friday, which was when the bill was discussed by the committee. David Smith said he wondered “If doing this doesn’t potentially compromise our water right.”

The State Engineer said he couldn’t answer the question.

David Smith explained that the town doesn’t have to use the water.

“We have a valid legal right, as a municipality, to store the water for municipal use in Fremont Lake, with nobody being able to mess with it. But it’s instream flow in Pine Creek; once it hits New Fork, it’s is up for grabs and they can file on it. Even if they don’t have a valid claim – the legal ramifications could be awful.”

Others who spoke against the bill included House District 20 Representative Kathy Davison.

Pinedale resident and rancher Paul Hagenstein said the failure of the bill was “what I went over there for. We told them the way things were.”

He said he first thought the proposal was going to pass, “But the longer we talked, it started looking better.

“It’s slowed down for the moment, but we’ll have to just keep watching to see what happens between now and February,” Hagenstein said.

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