March hearing for high-capacity wells in southeast Wyo.
The five-day trial before a hearing examiner employed by the Wyoming State Engineer Groundwater Division to decide whether or not 1.5 billion gallons of water may be pumped out of the High Plains or Ogallala aquifer will be March 18.
Ty Lerwick, Keith Lerwick, and Jill and Rodney Lerwick have applied for permits for eight irrigation wells that would pump 4,642.5 acre-feet of water annually. This comes after an initial hearing on Dec. 11 before the Control Area Advisory Board, Laramie County Groundwater Control Area and the state engineer. The prehearing memo lists 17 contestants.
The proposed wells are located near Highway 85, north of Hillsdale and west of Albin, Wyo. The proposed wells are within the Laramie County Control Area, the groundwater management district that was established due to declining groundwater levels in eastern Laramie County. This five-year order by State Engineer Pat Tyrrell to limit groundwater use was issued April 1, 2015.
According to Reba Epler, an attorney representing landowners opposed to the granting of these permits, landowners opposed to the Lerwick wells are concerned that the aquifer and ground water levels would be lowered, causing domestic, stock and irrigation wells to go dry.
Approval of these wells, Epler said, could open the floodgates, or so it seems, to new permits for high-capacity wells in the area.
“It’s a classic move for power,” Epler said. “If you control 4,642 acre-feet of water, you have a lot of power. So, the question is, the water belongs to the people of Wyoming, it’s held in trust by the government, so do the people of Wyoming have this kind of a water right given to a small group of people?”
Eppler said the existence of unappropriated waters in the source further complicates the issue and is a major reason so many are opposed to the permitting.
Based on a 2014 study of groundwater levels, four distinct areas were identified in the LCCA. According to the state engineer Ground Water Division documents called for well spacing requirements for all new wells which includes closing areas to further permitting of large capacity wells in the High Plains Aquifer, measuring and reporting water levels, limiting drawdowns to 20 percent of available water in wells, and requiring the installation of monitoring wells.
Arguments against the permitting included a need for additional public awareness; prior taxpayer dollars used to retire high capacity wells in the area resulting in an estimated water savings of one billion gallons; the need for beneficial use to be redefined; documented negative effects of high capacity wells on stream flow, springs and seeps; and negative effects on neighboring wells.
“It’s a question for the people,” she said. “How do you want your water managed?”
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 392-4410.