State legislators look to create a commission for Wyoming's stake in the Colorado River
The Wyoming State Legislature begins its lawmaking session this week. One bill, called the “Colorado River Authority of Wyoming Act,” would create a board and commissioner to manage Wyoming’s water in the Colorado River Basin.
The system drains about 17 percent of the Cowboy State’s land area and is critical for agriculture, energy development and residential use in cities. The entire Colorado River Basin is currently under stress due to drought conditions and human development in the Southwest.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is similar to those previously passed in several other states that depend on the Colorado River.
“We feel it's very important to have those people that are actually going to be affected that live in the Colorado River Basin [to] have an opportunity to participate in these policy-level decisions that’s going to affect your everyday life,” Hicks said.
The commission would include nine members, including five representatives from the Green River Basin appointed by commissioners in Sublette, Sweetwater, Lincoln and Uinta counties. Plus, one appointee from the Little Snake River Basin recommended by commissioners in Carbon County, as well as the state engineer, the governor or a designee and an at-large member.
The authority would meet once a year and would include an official commissioner appointed by the governor who could represent Wyoming in negotiations with other states in the Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement that allocates river resources. However, any changes to water rights would still need to be approved by the state legislature, governor and relevant federal authorities.
“Whether you're a trona miner, or you’re a Main Street business in Rock Springs or Pinedale, Wyoming, or Baggs, Wyoming, you're going to have some representation and a say on how these programs are going to be rolled out by the state of Wyoming,” Hicks said.
The authority would be appropriated $400,000 from the general fund to employ at least two program employees, as well as consultants to conduct research and advise appointed members. The bill will need to pass both chambers in the legislature and the governor’s desk before going into effect. It has not been introduced yet.