Ranchers Worried Proposed High Capacity Water Wells Will Hurt Them

Jan 6, 2020

The Ogalalla Aquifer spans seven states.
Credit USGS

The Wyoming State Engineer's Office recently heard a proposal to drill eight high-capacity water wells in Laramie County, and now 17 ranchers and farmers in the area are protesting.

The wells would use a total of 1.5 billion gallons of water from the Ogallala Aquifer that many states in the Western U.S. rely on for water. Fifth generation Wyoming rancher and attorney Reba Epler said if the state engineer approves these wells, stock wells on her family ranch would likely dry up.

"One of the ways we'd be impacted immediately is that we'd have shallower stock wells that we've used for about 50 years," Epler said. "We'd have to drill much deeper, and the cost of drilling deeper is getting significantly more expensive."

Epler said all eight wells were applied for by three members of the Lerwick family. She said it's possible the family wants to sell the water to use in the fracking process since a lot of oil and gas development is happening in the area.

"If you really want to know, I think it's a classic resource grab," Epler said. "And anyone who controls 4,642 acre feet of water has a tremendous amount of power and they will have it a long time and many generations of people will have that kind of power."

Epler said it doesn't make sense to give anyone that much water when the Ogalalla Aquifer is already drawing down so much nationwide.

"The aquifer in parts of Texas has gone dry, it's gone dry in parts of New Mexico. Oklahoma, Kansas are having a really difficult time because their pivots are drying up. Colorado, eastern Colorado is having a heck of a time."

Epler said she remembers when Lodgepole Creek near her ranch ran year round.

"As a kid, it used to have a lot more water in it," she recalled. "There used to be consistently box turtle migrations across the highway and we always caught box turtles. There used to be tadpoles and salamanders. Just so much more life in the creeks than there are now."

Epler said, if allowed to be drilled, these wells could dry up other creeks in the areas as well, like Horse and Crow Creeks, not to mention numerous springs and seeps that ranchers and wildlife rely on.

A hearing with the state engineer over the dispute is scheduled for March.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Melodie Edwards, at medward9@uwyo.edu.