Wyoming State Water Plan, Wyoming Water Development Office
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Report on The Results of Water Survey Questionnaire


The Wyoming Water Development Commission, the State Engineer's Office and the Wyoming Water Resources Center recently completed a water issues survey of Wyoming citizens as a part of the water planning feasibility study funded by the Legislature. These agencies comprise the planning team. The survey was conducted by the Survey Research Center (SRC) at the University of Wyoming, in coordination with survey consultants from the Departments of Political Science and Agricultural Economics. The SRC tabulated the responses, but did not interpret the results.

The survey process began in September of 1997 when 1,777 survey questionnaires were mailed out, and 1,399 were returned. The results of the survey are presented in this document. The responses to the questionnaire are being used to identify and prioritize water issues of importance to Wyoming citizens. The survey mailing list will be used to keep the public informed of water planning activities through a regular newsletter. Individuals may ask to be put on that mailing list at any time. People on the list will be contacted and invited to attend when public meetings relating to water planning are held throughout the state.

The Water Development Commission wishes to thank everyone who took the time to complete a survey questionnaire, and especially the people who provided written comments. The information generated through the survey will be extremely valuable for the planning effort.

The Water Development Commission and its predecessors have been responsible for water planning in Wyoming since the Legislature created the Water Planning Program under the State Engineer's Office in 1967 [W.S. 41-1-106 and 107]. In 1975, the Legislature created the Water Development Program [W.S. 41-2-112]. In 1979, the Legislature transferred these authorities to the Water Development Commission and charged the Commission with the responsibility for "...the planning, selection, financing, construction, acquisition, storage, distribution and use of water necessary in the public interest to develop and preserve Wyoming's water and related land resources." [W.S. 41-2-112 (a)].

In 1996, the Legislature directed the WWDC and the State Engineer's Office to prepare a report for updating the state's Framework Water Plan, which was completed in 1973. The 1997 Legislature appropriated funds to the WWDC to conduct a feasibility study to implement a public participation process, identify the technology, data sources and modeling techniques which could be used in water planning. The feasibility study will also develop an accurate estimate of the costs of implementing an ongoing, comprehensive water planning process for the State of Wyoming.

The questionnaire was the first of several public involvement opportunities that the Water Development Commission will use. Others include presentations to interest groups, a regular newsletter, press releases, the formation of basin specific advisory groups, and public meetings to review the recommendations from the feasibility study.


Included in this report are the percentage responses to each question, and frequency graphs (histograms) illustrating the compilation of responses to the 83 questions in the survey which addressed the planning process and water resource issues.

A review of the responses is interesting. For example, 95% of the answers indicted that a water planning process was important to the state, validating the wisdom of the Legislature in starting this process (Q#1). An open and public process was encouraged by 93% of the respondents, who said that information generated by the planning process should be readily available to the public (Q#6). This report is the first step in insuring that the feasibility study and the planning process are open to everyone.

The vital importance of water to Wyoming's agriculture was validated by the response to Q#43, with 93% of respondents agreeing. Written comments also stressed the importance of agriculture to the state's economy and way of life. Since agriculture uses 85% of the water consumed in the state, a reliable supply available long term under the stability provided by existing water law and the prior appropriation doctrine is seen by producers as essential to the health of Wyoming's farms and ranches.

Strategies to protect Wyoming water from downstream states (Q#49) and the current adequacy of that protection (Q#41) were of concern to many respondents. This issue was one of the topics raised most frequently in the written comments as well.

The federal government's role in Wyoming water issues was identified as important by most respondents (Q#51,#64, and #79). Written comments also reflected uneasiness with the influence of federal laws and regulations on water management decisions in Wyoming.

Instream flows were seen as somewhat important to very important by about 82% of respondents (Q#77), and 89% agreed that the importance of water for wildlife and fisheries should be addressed in a state water plan.

Questions addressing the procedures used to develop the water planning process also received a strong response. Respondents agreed that citizen participation and input was important to water planning (Q#27, Q#39).

The role of water in economic development (Q#11), and water quality issues for both surface and groundwater sources were also seen as important to the water planning process.


The demographic questions provide a profile of those who returned the questionnaire and are part of standard survey procedures. Question # 89 indicated that respondents live in a wide variety of community types. No more than 30% come from any one community category, whether it was a large city, moderate sized city or town, small town or rural area. Over 70% of the questionnaire respondents have lived in Wyoming for more than 20 years (Q# 91).

Question #86 indicates that Wyoming's citizens believe themselves to be very knowledgeable about water issues. Only 6.2 % reported they were not very knowledgeable or uncertain of their knowledge level.

Respondents were equally clear about their preference for receiving information about water planning (Q# 85) . Newsletters, traditional news media, electronic media and public meetings were the clear choices.

The water planning team tried to identify individuals with interest in water issues to receive the questionnaire. However, mailing lists were not filtered to insure exact representation by population, geographic area or water interest category. As the water plan feasibility study proceeds, additional methods such as basin advisory groups, public meetings, and reports by request to interest groups will be used to expand and supplement the input received in the questionnaire. The Bear River Basin has been selected as a "water planning feasibility demonstration area" while the Green/Little Snake River Basin is expected to be the first basin addressed assuming legislative and gubernatorial approval of a planning process during the 1999 Legislative Session. Basin advisory groups will be formed to enable local citizens to provide input to the process.


Over 520 individual comments ranging in length from a few words to several pages were received. The planning team is grateful to those individuals who took the time to make written comments to clarify or expand on their answers. We would like to respond to each comment individually, but in order to get information back out to the public as soon as practical, we have grouped the written responses under water issues and addressed each issue briefly. We will continue to take guidance from the written comments throughout the feasibility study.

As we reviewed the written comments, three facts became clear:

1. There is general agreement on the water issues that are important to Wyoming. Written comments were grouped into 14 water issues topics, and four topics relating to the planning process itself.

2. There is no consensus on the state policies, existing or proposed, that should be used to address or resolve these issues. While a preponderance of comments might weigh in on one side of a particular issue, there was almost always a minority with a strongly held dissenting opinion.

3. Public education on water issues will be an important component of the water planning process. Management of the state's water resources involves consideration of a large and complex body of laws, regulations, guidelines, interstate compacts, Supreme Court Decrees, and traditions at the federal, state, and local level. Finding solutions to complex water issues will not be easy, and may require a concerted effort to increase public awareness of the realities impacting on the issues.


1. Agriculture

Irrigated agriculture consumptively uses more water than any other user in Wyoming, accounting for 80 to 85% of the state's consumption (Wyoming Water Atlas). The importance of this use was reflected in written comments suggesting that agricultural should receive the greatest emphasis in state water planning. Development of additional irrigated lands was mentioned, as well as support for existing producers. The benefits of agricultural water use to groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and open spaces was a popular topic. Concern was expressed that the water planning process should not be used to justify the transfer of water from irrigation to non-agricultural purposes. Many felt that existing agricultural organizations and interests should play a strong role in the water planning process. A minority was concerned there was too much emphasis on agriculture. Respondents were concerned about this sector's continued economic vitality, the development of additional irrigated lands and the involvement of irrigators and conservation districts in the planning process. Comments also touched on the potential for water transfers to move water from agricultural to environmental uses. The secondary benefits of irrigation, cost benefit analyses, and cost sharing of on-farm improvements were also mentioned.

2. Groundwater

Millions of acre-feet of water are stored in Wyoming's bedrock and alluvial aquifers. Many Wyoming communities and individual rural residents are dependent on groundwater for culinary and sanitary purposes. Groundwater is also used for irrigation in some areas. Survey respondents recognized the importance of this resource as reflected in comments on issues such as safe yield, well head protection, contamination from septic fields, and health inspections of private wells. Impact on aquifers from coal bed methane production in Campbell County was mentioned, as was the desirability of a state-wide inventory of the productivity and vulnerability of the state's aquifers. Geothermal groundwater was mentioned, as was the issue of conjunctive use of ground and surface waters. Aquifer inventories and conjunctive use opportunities were identified as important issues.

3. Economic Development

The role of water in the expansion of economic activity in Wyoming is important, but public opinion on the desirability of "development" and "growth" was varied. Respondents noted that water supply may not be the critical factor in industrial or manufacturing development and relocation decisions. The scope of economic development goal setting in relation to the planning process was the topic of several remarks. Questionnaire respondents were also interested in comparative economic analyses on all uses of water, and assessments based on water quality.

4. Downstream Claims/Compacts/Decrees, including sale or lease

Respondents expressed great concern about our ability to retain control of water allocated to Wyoming but not presently put to beneficial use. The Wyoming Constitution declares the water within the boundaries of the state to be the property of the state. Water supplies available for consumptive use in Wyoming are established by state water rights and water agreements with other states. In the Green River drainage, for example, approximately half a million acre-feet of water annually is available for new consumptive uses in Wyoming. Awareness of the lengthy and costly lawsuit with Nebraska over the North Platte River and the growth in demand in downstream states like Nevada and California led many respondents to suggest that Wyoming's highest priority should be to protect the state's existing allocations in all drainage basins, under all decrees and compacts. Development of more in-state storage reservoirs was suggested, as were other measures to defend against potential future claims by downstream states. Other respondents felt the state should consider selling or short-term leasing currently unused water to solve the state's budgetary problems. Others warned that sales or leases would be difficult to reverse if Wyoming needs the water in the future. The protection and utilization of the state's water resources was an issue raised by numerous respondents.

5. Water Quality

Respondents recognized the importance of maintaining and protecting the quality of Wyoming's water resources. Some believed water quality should be the preeminent resource concern. Others suggested that water quality data be standardized statewide. Some felt that all water quality concerns should be left to the Department of Environmental Quality. Some comments expressed concern that water quality issues such as TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads, a component of the Clean Water Act) would be used to preempt state water law and the prior appropriation doctrine to the detriment of agricultural users. Watershed management programs were suggested as one tool for protecting water quality. Concerns about the effects of pesticides, herbicides, wastewater discharge, flood irrigation, timber harvests, and pollution by industry were expressed. Primacy under the Safe Drinking Water Act was mentioned (Wyoming does not currently have "primacy" or regulatory responsibility for enforcement of safe drinking water standards). Several comments focused on the current and future role of the Department of Environmental Quality in managing this resource concern. Standardized water quality inventories and sediment concerns were also raised.

6. Municipal/Domestic

Domestic and culinary water use affects every Wyoming resident. Concern for protecting the quality of domestic supplies was mentioned, as was the role of state and federal agencies in insuring that citizens of the state have access to safe water at a reasonable cost. This area was seen as a high priority by many. Restrictions on the use of city water, water system regionalization and problems created by subdivision water use were issues raised. Drinking water standards, the Safe Drinking Water Act, manufacturing needs and growth forecasting were also seen as important by many respondents.

7. Water Conservation/Reuse

This area was seen as a high priority by many. Water conservation, return flows, and water reuse were mentioned as alternatives to the development of new supplies. Respondants also caution that before any new policies addressing these issues are considered, a careful analysis of unintended impacts should be undertaken. There is little motivation for conservation unless those incurring the expense or inconvenience to conserve water realize some benefit for their efforts. Current state laws impose some restrictions on water reuse and conservation. The balance between water conservation and water development was an issue brought up by several respondents. There was also interest in conservation on delivery systems and improved irrigation practices as well as cost sharing of efficiency improvements.

8. Water Rights/Water Law/Prior Appropriation Doctrine/Transfers/Reserved Rights

Respondents expressed strong support for continuing to use the prior appropriation doctrine and existing state water law as the basis of water management decisions. The prior appropriation doctrine is the foundation of Wyoming water law, and a guiding principle for the water planning process. There were, however, some specific water law modifications suggested. Some respondents, for example, thought non-consumptive instream water uses should be defined as beneficial use. Water transfer hearings, abandonment rules, and water rights application procedures were also identified as areas of concern. Reserved federal rights were an issue to several respondents.

9. Non Consumptive Issues. Includes instream flows, wetlands, ecosystem integrity, habitat, etc.

The balance between economic development and environmental needs was raised in several comments. Many respondents felt water use priorities should be driven by economics, not aesthetics, but instream flows, minimum reservoir pools, wetlands and endangered species were suggested issues for consideration. While respondents were interested in the value of economic development related to tourism and recreation, they also had concerns about sustainability and the use of open space. Many comments felt that traditional water uses should be given priority, particularly where economic viability was an issue.

10. Water Development

Some respondents equated water development with the construction of major storage reservoirs, and storage was often mentioned as the solution to many water issues, such as supplies for agriculture, economic development, and instream flows. Storage was also considered as a strategy to "protect" Wyoming water from downstream states and from federal restrictions on water development and management. Many comments were received in regard to the feasible future development of water in Wyoming. Geological hazards, suitable site selection, cost effective construction and multi-purpose development options were all raised as issues. Water flows that result from energy development and cost benefit analyses were also topics of consideration.

11. Federal Involvement/Regulations/Lawsuits

The federal role in Wyoming water management decisions raised the greatest concern among questionnaire respondents after the issues posed by increased demands for water by downstream states. Since the last State Water Plan was completed in 1973 ,the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the regulations developed under these acts have become an important influence on state water development decisions. This federal legislation must be considered in any water planning process. These regulations have often delayed, altered, terminated, or increased the costs of water development projects in Wyoming. Comments were as specific as a suggestion to block the American Heritage Rivers Initiative, to more general concerns about federal "claims" to Wyoming water. Some believed the state should allocate funds for legal expenses to resist federal involvement in state water management decisions.

12. Recreation

Respondents identified water based recreation as somewhat less important than uses with an immediately apparent economic benefit. The inherent nature of rivers, streams, lakes and man-made reservoirs means that various uses may be negatively impacted as other uses are accommodated. Those whose livelihood depends directly on a reliable water supply are likely to view reservoir operations and stream flows differently from those who use the reservoir for water skiing and the stream for fly fishing. Some respondents felt tourism was not a major economic factor in Wyoming, and argued that recreational values do not translate to economic benefit.

13. Industrial/Minerals Extraction/Manufacturing

The availability of a reliable supply of water for existing and future industrial uses was mentioned as priority by some respondents. Industry and manufacturing are unique in needing in most cases a 100% firm yield (supply) on a regular basis. Discharge from industrial uses was expressed as a concern.

14. Disaster and emergency response contingency planning (Drought mitigation, Flood control)

Pre-disaster planning and development of mitigation measures will greatly reduce and in come cases eliminate the impact caused by these climate-induced events.


1. Questionnaire Format and Content

Recurring comments suggest that many respondents felt the questionnaire was biased or developed to validate preconceptions of the planning team. Repetitive questions were criticized. Some felt the questionnaire went beyond the scope of water planning, or focused on inappropriate topics. Numerous comments related to the appearance and organization of the questionnaire itself. Some respondents felt that too many questions were asked, some questions were irrelevant, and that the questionnaire should not have been numbered. Questions #82-84, and demographic questions in general, were seen as inappropriate by some. Many individuals appreciated the thorough scope of the questionnaire

2. Public Involvement

The importance of citizen participation in governmental processes was stressed by many respondents. Many indicated a desire to be involved in generating and reviewing the output of both the feasibility study and the planning process, if implemented. Individuals were concerned about the role of vocal water interests, such as agricultural and environmental organizations, as well as the influence of uninformed public sentiment in the planning process. Questions were asked as to how individual water use sectors would be allowed a voice in the process. The education and research components of planning were considered significant by many individuals.

3. Public Education.

While respondents rated themselves well informed on water issues, administration and management of the state's water resources is based on a complex set of state and federal laws, agreements, court decrees and regulations. The solutions to issues of federal "interference," or potential water claims by downstream states are not simple, nor agreed to by all parties. Respondents stressed that public involvement should be a two way street, with information flowing from the public to the planning team, and from the state agencies involved in water management back to the public.

4. Function of the state plan.

Comments on the purpose and function of water planning, indicated the public has many questions about the process. Some comments focused on the distinction between the creation and maintenance of a state-wide, basin by basin data inventory, and aggressive planning aimed at defining state water management and development policy. Various comments mentioned that scoping the role of the process was a necessary precursor to decisions on funding the process. The balance between data inventories and comprehensive planning were raised in relation to the appropriate level of funding for planning in Wyoming. Respondents were also concerned about basin planning, the objectivity of the process, ethics in government, bureaucracy, the funding of local planning mandates, and coordination between agencies in state government. The balance between centralized and local planning administration was also an issue. Several individuals thought that the need to remain flexible and dynamic was crucial to water planning. Many comments asked for a better definition of the objectives of a water planning process.

Questionnaire Index | Summary | Process Questions (1-44) | Issue Questions (45-81) | Demographics Questions (82-94)