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Water Development Office

Summary of the State Water Planning Process

In 1997 the Legislature directed the WWDC to conduct a Water Planning Feasibility Study with the assistance of the University of Wyoming (UW). In conjunction with the State Engineer and the University, the WWDC completed an intensive public outreach effort, a pilot analysis in the Bear River Basin and a statewide water data inventory. An independent consulting firm under contract to the WWDC assisted with development of recommendations. The 1999 Legislature approved the recommended planning framework and authorized the Bear River and Green River Basin Plans. In the years that followed, the remaining basin plans were authorized and funded. The Platte River Basin Plan was the last one completed in May 2006. In anticipation of completion of the individual basin plans the 2005 Legislature authorized funding for the Statewide Framework Water Plan. The purpose of this plan was to summarize results from the basin plans and to provide recommendations for basin plan updates. More information on the Basin Planning Process or the Plan Updates can be found by clicking the links on the left side of the page.

History of the State Water Planning Process

The last time the State of Wyoming embarked on a statewide comprehensive water planning process was in the late 1960's. The effort culminated in the publication of the 1973 Wyoming Framework Water Plan: a Summary and the 1973 Wyoming Framework Water Plan. The plan consisted of an overall statewide framework plan, as well as plans for each of the state's seven major river basins. Despite its age the 1973 Framework Plan and the associated basin plan documents remain valuable reference documents for the state's policy makers and water resources managers.

In 1979, the Legislature created the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC), charging it with responsibility for coordinating water and related land resources planning for the state. Between 1979 and 1995, the WWDC completed several major river basin planning studies, including studies of the Big Horn and Powder River Basins. Planning by the WWDC was mostly project-driven in response to applications from local sponsors.

Federal legislation during the 1970's and 1980's, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act, became a major factor affecting project implementation. In 1986, Nebraska filed a lawsuit against Wyoming over use of the waters of the North Platte River. In the Big Horn Basin, adjudication of water rights and settlement of tribal issues had the potential to greatly affect water management in that basin. Additionally, water user groups and water interest groups appeared to become more polarized over topics such as instream flows, transfer of water from one use to another, recreational/environmental water uses, downstream sale or lease of Wyoming's compact and decree allocations, response to federal mandates, and water quality concerns.

A group in the Green River Basin, the Colorado River Basin Coordinating Council (CRBCC), became concerned that Wyoming's Colorado River Compact allocation, not yet put to beneficial use, was perhaps vulnerable to growing water demands of Arizona, Nevada, and California. At the urging of CRBCC, the 1996 Legislature directed the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) and the State Engineer's Office (SEO) to prepare recommendations for updating the 1973 Framework Water Plan. The two agencies submitted a joint recommendation to the Governor, the Water Development Commission, and the Legislature Select Water Committee on October 1, 1996.

A staff planning team from the WWDO, the SEO, and the Water Resources Data System (WRDS) at UW was established in early 1997. The planning team was given the responsibility of responding to the governor's request to revisit the 1996 recommendations, specifically in the area of public interaction. He strongly supported a grass-roots effort to planning. The planning team amended the proposal to request funding for a feasibility study to conduct the following Phase I and Phase II tasks:

  • Wyoming Statewide Public Opinion Survey
  • Pilot Basin Citizen Advisory Group
  • Statewide Data Inventory
  • Consultant Feasibility Study

Phase I - Wyoming Statewide Survey

Funding for the planning teams amended feasibility study was approved by the 1997 legislature. The planning team's initial focus was to implement a public involvement program to gauge public opinion on water issues, and to build statewide consensus and support for the water planning process. A mailing list of interested citizens was developed from membership in water or other natural resource organizations, natural resource conference attendee lists, and responses to general solicitations of interest through the planning team's quarterly newsletters. A letter was sent to almost 3,800 individuals considered to represent the "informed public," asking them if they were willing to participate in a survey. Surveys were mailed to 1,777 people who had responded positively to the letter. The Water Planning Questionnaire asked participants to identify and prioritize water-related issues from a personal perspective as well as a state perspective, and indicate their degree of support for a comprehensive statewide water plan. Over 1,400 surveys were returned by January 1998. Results were summarized and a report distributed to all survey participants.

Phase I - Bear River Basin Advisory Group

During the summer of 1997, the planning team implemented the public involvement portion of the proposed basin planning program. It was localized to demonstrate how "grassroots" input could be incorporated into the water planning process. The Bear River Basin was selected as the pilot basin, and a public meeting was held in Evanston, Wyoming, on January 27, 1998. Over 80 people attended. The group selected a Basin Advisory Group (BAG) of 15 people representing agriculture, local government, industry, environmental, and recreational interests. The group met monthly for the next six months with two goals in mind: 1) to identify specific water and water-related management issues in the Bear River Basin, and 2) to create a template for the organization and operation of basin advisory groups in other areas.

The BAG took advantage of this opportunity to solicit information on water resource issues from state and federal agency representatives. The final pilot study BAG meeting was held in August 1998. The BAG submitted a report to the planning team, containing an inventory of Bear River management concerns and comments on the public involvement process.

Phase I- Statewide Data Inventory

Another need that emerged during Phase I of the feasibility study was a statewide inventory of existing water-related data and databases. It was evident that much of the data required to support a statewide planning process were compiled by various agencies, but the data were not catalogued in a comprehensive way. Without such a compilation, data needs for the water planning process could not be estimated.

In late 1997, the state contracted with the Water Resources Center (WRC) to develop a statewide data inventory (SDI) of resource information available in electronic formats, and an evaluation of its suitability for incorporation into a water planning database. A list of relevant data themes or categories was first developed. Primary sources for each category were identified and the data was characterized with respect to content, level of detail, completeness, and timeliness. WRC submitted its final report to the WWDC in March 1998. By May 1998, the SDI was published on the Water Planning Web Site ( maintained by WRDS.

Other Activities

In addition to the activities described above, the planning team also contacted its counterparts in other western states to learn about their water planning activities. Members of the planning team sent questionnaires and consulted with state staff in other western states. They focused on planning products, data gathering techniques, and budget.

Phase II - Consultant Feasibility Study and Executive Summary

The second phase of the planning process feasibility study was development of an implementation strategy for the water planning process. In March 1998, the WWDC contracted with a consulting team, headed by Boyle Engineering Corporation, to review and evaluate the public involvement program, recommend storage and retrieval criteria for planning process products, evaluate staffing and support needs for the planning process, and refine the draft scope of services prepared earlier by WWDC.

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