Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
A: I am an economist. I have a doctorate in economics in natural resource economics from the University of Wyoming. I have been a consultant in economics for many years, and that's what's been able to make me come back to Wyoming.
Q: What is your definition of instream flow?
A: Well, I think that instream flow is not necessarily a restricted amount of flow in a particular stream but it is something that preserves the stream, that keeps it alive whether it's for fisheries, whether it's for health and safety, or just for aesthetics. It's a beneficial amount of water within the stream that provides some sort of a natural habitat.
Q: Is it difficult to implement instream flow policy or legislation in Wyoming?
A: It is difficult to implement instream flow restrictions in Wyoming for a number of reasons I think. If you just look at the facts, we've had the statute on the books since 1986. It was passed reluctantly by the legislature because there was a citizen's initiative that was going to take precedence if the legislature didn't act. Since it's been passed, according to the website of the State Engineer, there have been 79 applications and we've only implemented 7. Interestingly enough, the only entity that can make an application out of the instream flow statute is the Water Development Commission and there is a little bit of institutional rigidity in that whole requirement. According again to that Sate Engineer's website, we've only managed to protect about 50 miles of river in this entire time. The last application was approved in 1996. They've averaged about one a year, maybe a little less than one, so it's kind of been a rough go.
Q: Why, in your view, is instream flow protection important to modern-day Wyoming?
A: As the instream flow statute is defined, instream flows are only permitted to enhance fisheries. The biological studies, of course, have to be done by the Game and Fish Commission, and the proposal actually made by the Wyoming Water Development Commission. There are other beneficial uses in my mind that instream flows provide but they can't be considered. One might be just be health and safety. For example I live in Lander and the middle fork of the Popo Agie flows about a block from my house. Last summer, the middle fork was impaired with respect to chloro-fecal matter and this river was actually posted for restrictions on swimming and being in the river -- the river that I grew up around and played in all my life. That's very disturbing and the reason it's impaired is because of warm temperatures, low flow, very stagnant water. It seems just logical to me that this community and surrounding area would like to do something about it, maybe by working to put a little bit more water into the river when it's most needed.
Q: How do you account for increasing interest, in Wyoming and the West, in instream flow protections?
A: I think that there's probably always been interest but there hasn't been a vehicle. Instream flow is essential because it sort of defines what we are. The earliest settlers to all of our regions settled and placed their homes along the streams. They realized the value of water and the value of placement and use for agriculture and for other purposes. We are of course in a multi-year drought situation. My home county, Fremont County, probably leads the state in terms of the severe impacts of drought. This only exacerbates people's feeling of loss when they realize that they don't have the flows in the rivers and streams that at one time were so characteristic. Here we live close to the mountains, so we can go upstream just a few miles before the diversions and actually see significant flows in the river and then they go, "Wow, how come it's not like that through town?"
Q: Talk briefly about Wyoming's existing instream flow statute, saying what's good about it, and in what way or ways you think it is deficient?
A: The existing instream flow statute in Wyoming is a step in the right direction but it is very rigid. It requires of course that instream flow only be permitted for the benefit of fisheries, and the applications have to come from the Wyoming Water Development Commission. Just the fact that it has been so infrequently used and protected so few miles of river is an indication that it is a very rigid [statute, just a] toe in the water, so to speak. I think that it's had beneficial results but not enough has been done to convey really the value that people place on having free-flowing rivers.
Q: Now tell us about the law you proposed during the budget session, and what it would have provided?
A: I proposed a bill to allow agricultural users of water to temporarily give or sell their water for the purpose of being used for instream flows. The bill had a lot of restrictions on it making sure that the State Engineer approved the change in use of water to make sure that no one else was harmed and that it really was a net benefit to everybody. The bill did remarkably well. This was of course a budget year, and it takes a two-thirds vote to get a bill introduced during a budget year. I achieved 19 votes in the Senate, one short of introduction, but it was overwhelming support for such a concept.
Q: What is your next step?
A: I hope that having the bill in the legislature will have generated interest in the topic. I think the very next step would be to have dialogue between all parties involved, and it is a dialogue I have been trying to achieve. For the past few years, I have been speaking at water conferences and I have spoken to my soil conservation district and I have spoken to irrigators and landowners, just to begin to get the ball rolling. I think with the near success of that bill we will have a better chance of continuing this dialogue with the parties involved -- Game and Fish, the Water Development Commission, and of course the State Engineer's Office -- to perhaps figure out a way to allow for temporary changes in water use that could be of great benefit to people.
Q: Any additional thoughts?
A: I think that this concept is important because it allows water to in essence move to a use that might be more valued in a particular situation. For example, it might be a rough year for a particular rancher. For whatever reason they may not have been able to get their hay crop going, who knows what the circumstances might be. They might decide that it's probably not worth the time and the effort to continue to irrigate that particular piece of property given that the results are not going to be good for whatever circumstances. This gives them a choice, perhaps to take that water and give it to the benefit of the stream for the rest of the season and maybe the next season. It would be their choice, but it actually would do some great good. The important thing about my bill is that it protects them from losing that water right in the process. They can always have it and use it in the future, maybe when circumstances improve, whether it's pricing or they can have more cows because now the drought is over and we can turns cows out on baling property, what have you. Circumstances change in agriculture all the time. At a particular time, that water may be more valuable in instream use than in that particular use in agriculture. And if they can give it, wonderful. If somebody wants to buy it or lease it to temporarily put it in the river, that's fine too. They might do better doing that than raising product.