Sublette Examiner | Locking up the Green River

SUBLETTE COUNTY – The Green River headwaters are in our mountains but its closest water users won’t have an extra advantage. In fact, the state will likely delve into mapping the Upper Green’s water consumption.

That was one warning delivered Tuesday, Sept. 27, to 100 agricultural consumers, with several municipal, scientific and industrial interests also represented in the Lovatt Room at the invitation of the Green River Cattlemen’s Association.

The entire Green River is an integral part of the Upper Colorado River Basin’s mandated outflow to lower basin states. The Upper Basin and Lower Basin have different policies, compacts and court decisions that shape how to divide and manage water from Wyoming to Arizona.

Conservation, curtailment, regulations, even locked headgates and overhead satellites are coming soon for local, traditional water consumers.

Pinedale rancher and Rep. Albert Sommers related governors’ efforts to create Colorado River working groups for more input.

Speakers were Chris Brown, of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, and Kevin Payne, Water Division IV superintendent at the State Engineer’s Office.

Brown’s presentation, “The Colorado River Compacts, Continuing Drought & Potential Impacts to Wyoming,” reviewed the current “dire situation” and “what’s going on today so we can better plan.”

Many asked how and when changes come – and if the state will help them adjust.

Even with modeled scenarios, Brown said the state “likely won’t know until middle of April, beginning of May of that year” how the state and Upper Basin would curtail consumption in a given year. A best bet now seemed to be in 2025.

“It would be nice to know before 2023,” a man commented.

“I don’t have an answer,” Brown said

“We have to have that ability,” Sommers said. “We can’t be successful with our operations with declining water.”

Brown said the key is efficient irrigation – “How do we do the same with less water?”

An Upper Green pilot program from 2015 to 2018 that paid volunteers to cut back on consumption might return with federal funding and a fixed firm price, Brown said.

Rancher Janet Beiermann asked if the State Engineer’s Office could show if the pilot put more water in Flaming Gorge or Lake Powell.

Other water questions ranged from increased storage, water movement, conservation, desalinization, training for water hydrologists, senior water rights selling to junior water rights holders and reservoirs.

“We’ve got a whole diversity (of users) in the Green River Basin that are not visited by our hydrographers,” Brown said. “We need to measure actual consumptive use in the Upper Green.”

The most accurate way to measure ag consumption is “remote sensing” of every field by overhead satellites. Payne said a final report is due in November.

More structure looms for water users in the Upper Green – a basin-wide priority schedule, historic consumptive use data, measuring devices on all diversions, official stream gages, locking pie-shaped pivots, lockable headgates on all diversions, more frequent checking and more reservoir monitoring.

Brown and Payne said with the West’s hydrologic cycle of hot and dry, “Basically, something has to go without.”

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