From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 103, Number 13 - November 30, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

DEQ, SEO hold open forum
Duo discusses water and subdivision development
by Ben Cannon

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Equality (DEQ) and the State Engineers Office (SEO) held an open forum at the Pinedale Town Hall.

To a full room of private citizens and a healthy representation of planning and zoning board members from both town and county, DEQ Water Quality Division Manager Don McKenzie and SEO Cooperative Programs Coordinator Mike Ebsen were on a mission to promote communication between the state and local governments.

McKenzie presented a Power Point presentation in which he explained the workings and hierarchy of the DEQ, especially within his department, which handles water quality issues. What he was most interested in, was discussing subdivision development and the DEQ’s role in submitting reviews whereby the body issues an “adverse or non-adverse” recommendation to a local governing board. The DEQ’s Water Quality Division reviews subdivision proposals to determine the “adequacy and safety of sewage and water supply systems,” McKenzie said. Ultimately, though, this tool of the state can only recommend not enforce based on its findings.

“We are review entities and the authority is at the local level,” explained McKenzie. He added that it is rare for local government to not accept a DEQ recommendation.

McKenzie said that in 1990, his office reviewed a total of less than 25 subdivision proposals across Wyoming. By the end of this calendar year he expects “well over 300” explaining, “if reviews can be attributed to (the volume of) development,” it is clear that subdivision review should be examined as a tool to direct healthy, sustainable growth across Wyoming.

Ebsen fielded questions of a different nature. His focus –with respect to Tuesday’s meeting– was the matter of water wells. “This is an interesting area” Ebsen said of Sublette County, with Fremont Lake providing a substantial source of water not typical of Wyoming. He also meant that groundwater here can be tricky business, with lenses of aquifers that “may or may not be interconnected.”

“Whose responsibility is it if (new) wells are affecting somebody’s (existing) water right?” asked County P&Z member Albert Sommers, who also mentioned the inherent difficulty of a citizen board deciding matters that require professional opinions. Ebsen suggested that good studies should be researched and maintained and that local administrators should know the nuances of local water better than state bureaucrats. Ebsen did acquiesce that it is a complex matter with no easy solution.

“One of the best ways to protect your aquifer is to get qualified people to put a straw in it,” he said. There was some frustration expressed throughout the room in a subsequent discussion that there are no qualifications on the books for water well drillers.

Ebsen said that a movement toward better data collection could help establish a more stable and solid resource of information. The meeting moved to a discussion of water rights for agricultural lands developed for other usage like residential development. The DEQ and SEO are on a tour, so to speak, to promote dialogue with the local municipalities that –in Wyoming– are ultimately responsible for overseeing these types of development concerns.

“They are trying to figure out how to better serve the people and local governments of this state,” Town of Pinedale Planning and Zoning Administrator Meghan Jacquet said after the meeting.

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