Wyoming residents have long known the importance of the more than 5.5 trillion gallons of water that flow through the state annually.
That fact was apparent Wednesday at the Wyoming Water Strategy Conference in Casper. State water officials met with ranchers and interest groups for the final event in a series of statewide comment gathering sessions.
Bud Christensen, a rancher from Gillette, said not much has changed concerning water policy since the time that his ancestors homesteaded the ranch he now operates in 1907.
“Technology is what it is,” Christensen said. “I agree Wyoming has good water laws. I won’t argue that, but they were good 100 years ago. Look at technology like sprinklers: They never had invented things like that when they were writing that law, and we need to upgrade, that’s all.”
Christensen’s son, Bob, a third-generation rancher on the family’s land near Glendo, said communication is critical for legislators and state officials in the final stages of the strategy’s drafting. He said educating those involved in settings like the conference would ease misconceptions surrounding several state water issues.
“We’ve actually talked to quite a few people today that are ready to make changes,” Bob Christensen said. “It’s like anything else you do: There’s a certain segment that keeps up and there’s a lot of them that don’t. There definitely needs to be some changes.”
State officials outlined more than 50 water initiatives in four main categories – development, management, conservation and watershed restoration. Topics ranged from the development of water storage reservoirs and hydroelectric power opportunities to changes in the policies governing Wyoming water rights.
The task of trimming this group to the final 10 initiatives that will make up the plan will ultimately fall on Gov. Matt Mead.
“There is no simple equation for how you decide what is most important,” said Nephi Cole, policy analyst in the Office of the Governor. “Ultimately, we have to look at the input piece, funding pieces, legislative priorities, local priorities and the partners that may be involved in each initiative."
Several people involved in the process voiced concern for the funding and implementation of the water strategy.
“It’s going to take us some time to put this together,” said Cole. “Having said that, this is a priority for the governor, and he wants to see action on water in months, not in years.”
Cole did not confirm an exact release date for the strategy but said it would be released promptly after public comment is compiled and analyzed. He said the state has not acted in such a comprehensive manner to develop statewide water policy in the past.
For those on the ground, that comprehensive communication is what creates change.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to do is make people understand that we’re trying to make some improvements for the better and get this thing done,” Bud Christensen said. “It can be tough.”