Abstract Wyoming is currently involved in a multi-million dollar water development program. The political pressure to develop water, to "use it or lose it" is enormous. At the same time, Wyoming has significant needs and responsibilities to take care of the water projects currently in place in the state, and to use our water wisely. Private, federal, and potential state projects pose a real threat to future taxpayers as the costs of repairing and maintaining these facilities is shunted to the state.
Much of the water use in the state is for agriculture. Most of the demands for future water needs comes from industry and municipalities, coming is faced with potential water needs, but most of them are speculative.
On the face of it, Wyoming has an adequate supply of water to meet future water needs, Wyoming has more than twice as much water available under interstate water compacts and decrees than is currently used. Water from Boysen, Yellowtail, Fontenelle, and Lake DeSmet is sitting unused, adding to the late season flows of downstream states. Much of this water, and other undeveloped supplies, is not available in areas of the state where future demands may develop.
There is more than one way to meet demonstrated water demands in Wyoming. The current approach seems to be to build new projects. Most of the proposed projects have no or little demonstration of actual need for the water. Alternatives to building new projects are rarely considered. This approach is expensive and the risks are high.
An alternative to much of the proposed water development program is conservation and rehabilitation of existing water supply systems. Dams, pipelines, and ditches around the state are in desperate need of repair. Water users need to have safe and efficient water supply systems to protect themselves from the liability of damage caused by poor dams or canals. If some projects are not repaired the existing water users may not be around to use the water in the future. The cost savings of efficient supply systems could be a boon to strained agricultural operations, and would help more people than most new development projects.
New techniques and technologies offer water savings for much of looming. Agriculture, industry and municipalities now have a tremendous potential to "produce" water by implementing water efficiency measures. The cost of water produced in this way is much less than water developed under new water development projects.
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