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Wyoming among States Advancing Claims on Colorado River

Conservationists are concerned upper-basin state efforts to divert water could hurt ecosystems dependent on the Colorado River. (Pixabay)

Conservationists are concerned upper-basin state efforts to divert water could hurt ecosystems dependent on the Colorado River. (Pixabay)
March 22, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wyoming has moved one step closer to getting more water for ranching, agriculture and industrial development.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources has advanced a bill that would allow the state to take an additional 125,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River at the Fontenelle Dam.

Gary Wockner, executive director of the group Save the Colorado, says it would be the largest new diversion of water from the Colorado River, which is fed by the Green River, and could hurt a downstream ecosystem already at risk.

"Wyoming is being very clear, too, that they want to 'get their water out' before the system collapses," says Wockner. "And before the federal government potentially steps in and tries to force a different kind of management on the river."

State officials say expanding the Fontenelle is necessary for farmers and ranchers who need a reliable water supply to keep crops and livestock healthy.

They feel the measure would also be an economic incentive for new businesses to grow and create jobs in southwestern Wyoming.

Wockner notes Wyoming isn't the only state trying to get more water from a shrinking source. He points to a proposal by Denver Water to expand the Gross Dam that would remove an additional 5 billion gallons annually from the Colorado.

While upper-basin states may technically have rights to the water, Wockner says the challenges of a changing climate and 16 years of drought can't be ignored.

"No matter what sort of beneficial use they propose to use it for, the paper rights for the water may exist," he says. "But what's called 'wet water,' or the real water, is not there anymore."

Wockner says his group and others will continue to oppose diversion efforts during upcoming study and permitting periods, to keep water flowing in the Colorado River system.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY