The Wind River Inter-Tribal Council welcomed U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to the Reservation on Wednesday to discuss global climate change.
Senator Whitehouse represents the state of Rhode Island, which he says is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
"If we're going to solve this problem it's going to take the whole Senate to do it, so I'm trying to go to other colleagues' states to get a better understanding of what the climate change problem looks like at home for them," Whitehouse said.
Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone leaders spoke with the Senator about the potential for renewable energy development on the Wind River Reservation and roadblocks that could get in the way.
"We're in a bit of a catch-22 because our primary source of revenue that helps the tribes is oil and gas," said Eastern Shoshone Business Council Vice-Chairman Leslie Shakespeare. "The tribes have done feasibility studies on wind farms and solar, and the transmission lines would cost more than the actual project."
Whitehouse responded that absorbing those overhead costs would help the tribes prepare for a potential crash in the oil and gas industry.
"It's like fire insurance," he said. "Your house might not burn down, but you'd sure like to have somebody look around and […] do the planning just in case."
After meeting with the Inter-Tribal Council, Senator Whitehouse visited Washakie Reservoir with Jim Pogue, a technician for the joint-tribal Water Engineers office. Pogue explained how rising temperatures are impacting the Reservation's water system.
"The glaciers that are up there supply [the reservoir's] water," Pogue said, gesturing to the Wind River Mountain Range in the distance. "When they eventually disappear, all of the water will come down as snow melt and there will be nothing later in the season."
The Wind River tribes use Washakie Reservoir for drinking water as well as agricultural irrigation. Pogue said that in recent years, the glaciers have melted more quickly than in the past, causing the reservoir to drain sooner.
"Climate change puts pressure on our ability to have water for the irrigators later in the year," he said.
Whitehouse says he will use what he learned on Wind River to shape climate change policy in the U.S. Senate. He also visited scientists and environmental advocacy groups in Jackson and Lander during his visit to Wyoming.