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After Year's Hiatus, Water Dispute Moves Forward In Courts

Little Horse Creek
Peter Arnold
Reba Epler
Local ranchers are concerned that the high capacity wells could drain Little Horse Creek, one of the last flowing creeks in the area.

A controversial water dispute in Laramie County that got held up last year because of the pandemic will see its day in court June 9-11 in Cheyenne.

17 ranch families are pushing back on a permit application by three members of the Lerwick family to drill eight high-pressure wells north of Cheyenne. These wells would appropriate 1.6 billion gallons of ground water from the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source that's already gone dry in several other Western states.

Attorney Reba Epler owns a ranch in the area and said this case is crucial for establishing a more modern approach to water management in Wyoming.

"The old school use of water probably wouldn't meet the 21st-century definition of how truly precious groundwater is to us and how we need it to go into the future," Epler said. "Our kids need it, our grandkids need it, and those will be the people that suffer the most."

The wells would use 4700-acre feet of water or the equivalent used by a town of about 10,000 people. Epler said her dad remembers fishing on some creeks that no longer flow in the area. Most local creeks have gone dry.

"Horse Creek is probably the last flowing creek in Laramie County," Epler said. "And that creek sustains so much agriculture and so much wildlife, so many birds and fish and it is quite a magnificent creek and it is sustained by the base flow of the groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer."

Epler said granting permits on these wells would endanger Horse Creek.

After a year's hiatus on the case due to COVID, the state engineer's office will finally meet to hear both sides.

"There are so many people in this case," Epler said, "that they couldn't safely hold the hearing in one room. And now it will be held at the Capitol on June 9, 10 and 11."

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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