U.S. Water News Online
RAWLINS, Wyo. — A request by the Bureau of Reclamation to use water from Pathfinder Reservoir for wildlife habitat and municipal uses doesn't comply with Wyoming law, an attorney for water users groups says.
Fritz Holleman, who represents the Upper North Platte Valley Water Users Association and the Upper North Platte Valley Water Conservation Association, said because Pathfinder was authorized for irrigation in 1904, the bureau requests are for new uses. New uses for the water aren't allowed under Wyoming law, he said.
Holleman's remarks came during a public meeting attended by more than a 100 people, most who own irrigated acreage in the Platte Valley.
The meeting was held on the BuRec's request that Pathfinder be raised to allow for an additional 54,000 acre feet of storage. Of that amount, 34,000 acre feet would be dedicated to benefit animals in Nebraska listed as endangered species. The other 20,000 acre feet would be placed in a municipal account managed by the state for use as the water development office sees fit.
"We need this to comply with Wyoming law in all respects regarding the change of use," Holleman said. "And we need there to be no taking of water rights."
Wyoming Rep. Jeb Steward, R-Encampment, agreed with Holleman's argument on the change of use.
"If they're successful they are operating with a set of rules you and I don't have to recognize," Steward said.
Holleman said a crux of the North Platte groups' opposition to the proposal is that the BuRec wants the new water to have a 1904 water right attached. Because it's a new use, it should have a 2008 water right, he said.
Granting new uses a senior right puts those uses at the front of the line, he said.
"The question is if there's enough (water) why aren't they going to the end of the line?" Holleman said.
Holleman questioned how an already over-appropriated reservoir can have an additional 54,000 acre feet of water to be allocated to anyone.
The water users have asked for another hearing on the BuRec's petition to be held in Saratoga.
Federal officials haven't yet responded to that request, Holleman said.