Gov. Gordon Signs Water Bill, Giving UW The Right To Drill Wells, Operate Own Water System

Apr 6, 2021


The University of Wyoming has won complete control over its own water system, capping off what has been a fierce struggle between the university and the city of Laramie.

Governor Mark Gordon signed the university water system bill this week, but also wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House voicing his uneasiness with the situation.

"My decision to sign this bill into law is simply an outgrowth of selecting the best outcome out of a suite of poor options," the governor writes.

The University of Wyoming is Laramie's largest single water customer, even with the 70 percent discount it receives. Importantly, UW currently uses Laramie water to irrigate the Jacoby Golf Course. The new law allows UW to now use its own water for that purpose.

By the university's own estimates, this will reduce UW's water bill with the city by half-a-million dollars, from $1.94 million to $1.44 million.

In a recent opinion piece, UW Acting Vice President for Governmental Relations Bill Mai writes that the university intends to keep paying the city for drinkable water.

"For many years, the University of Wyoming has watered much of the green space on campus with its own irrigation wells," Mai writes. "In the face of rising fees charged by the city - and with the support and sanction of the Wyoming Legislature and the State Engineer's Office - the university has drilled two additional wells of its own. The new wells will be used in the same way as the existing ones, but their primary initial purpose will be irrigation of Jacoby Golf Course."

But using Laramie water for the golf course kept the city's supply moving, and kept it from growing stagnant. Laramie City Councilors warn that the city might now have to spend additional funds flushing the city supply.

The city passed a resolution last month denouncing the water bill and councilors unsuccessfully lobbied against its passage throughout the session.

Gordon criticized the bill for not addressing the core issue: whether and how much a city can regulate water within its borders.

"The bill only solves the problem for the university," Gordon writes. "What about every other private property right affected by the city of Laramie's ordinance? And more broadly speaking, where do we draw the line when a municipality enacts regulation of water within its boundaries when it is clearly a responsibility assigned to the State Engineer in statute? These and other questions will have to go unanswered for the time being."

Gordon also echoed Sen. Tara Nethercott's assessment of the water bill as a local matter being "litigated through the Legislature."