Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The latest proposal to allow Wyoming ranchers to keep streams flowing for fish

Conservation advocates are pushing for approval of a bill by the legislature this January that would allow private landowner to lease their water rights temporarily to groups such as Trout Unlimited. Those groups could then keep the water in the stream to help fish populations. Small streams that get too hot for fish, or dry up completely, would have a better chance of allowing trout to flourish, said Cory Toye, Wyoming Water Project Director with Trout Unlimited.  Wyoming water rights holders can already temporarily change the use of their water and lease it to the Highway Department or to energy development projects. Those uses are allowed because they are consumptive in the same sense water irrigation is a consumptive use. In-stream flow, because the water is left in the creek, is considered non-consumptive, Toye said. The currently proposed bill would add to the list of possible temporary changes, allowing leasing of water rights to organizations such as Trout Unlimited to keep the water in-stream for the benefit of fisheries and trout populations across the state, Toye said.  So what’s the incentive for landowners who hold precious water rights to support the leasing idea? Money. Toye said a typical Wyoming irrigator might, under the law, be able to lease 50 percent of the water right, the same amount presumed to be used for irrigation, Toye said. The owner would be paid for the water without giving up the claim for future use.  Exactly how much water rights would lease for is currently unknown as it will depend on the area and amount of water...more

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