Tribes develop proposed water plan

Riverton, Wyoming (AP) 10-07

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes have developed a draft water plan that asserts they have the right to use 500,000 acre-feet of water annually from local streams and rivers however they wish.

The tribes’ draft water plan was completed in August. It will be presented to the tribes’ joint business council for adoption sometime in January, following a public comment period, tribal water engineer Bill Russell said.

The plan is expected to set the tribes’ water policy for years to come.

However, there’s disagreement on what the tribes can do with their water.

An official from the state’s largest irrigation district says the plan may not jibe with the five Big Horn decrees that laid out both tribal and non-tribal water rights in the Wind River and Bighorn basins over a decade of litigation starting in 1977.

“Regarding the water plan, there seems to be several statements that, if acted upon, may not necessarily meet the statutory and/or legal test,” Midvale Irrigation District superintendent Lee Arrington said in a brief written statement.

Arrington said the Bighorn decrees speak for themselves. He and the board of directors of the 73,000-acre district refused to comment on the issue further.

Russell acknowledged the water plan is based on the tribes’ interpretation of water law and may not be agreeable to all water users.

In fact, he said, the plan, if followed, “would definitely impact non-tribal water users.”

The 500,000 acre-feet of water the plan says is federally reserved for the tribes yearly would cover 500,000 acres with one foot of water. The figure is equivalent to 161 billion gallons of water, according to the water plan.

The reservation watershed produces 1.5 million acre-feet of water per year, Russell said.

Two potentially contentious claims in the plan include the tribes’ insistence that they can use water “for any purpose at any location on the reservation, during any time of the year” and they can sell their water to whomever they wish.

Information from: The (Riverton) Ranger,