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WWRC 89-31
Water Market in Wyoming


Like most states west of the 100th meridian, Wyoming has from its earliest history followed the prior appropriation doctrine to allocate water rights. Wyoming was the first state to adopt a wholly administrative scheme for allocating water rights—a scheme that proved so successful it was emulated by other states. Unlike many of its sister states, however, Wyoming has traditionally adhered to a conservative policy regarding water transfers. Fear that water rights applicants might engage in speculative acquisitions led to a 1909 statute that appeared to ban transfers entirely. Over time, Wyoming's water transfers law evolved to accommodate some changes in use, place of use and point of diversion. But a conservative philosophy continues to permeate water transfer decisions. This article attempts to explain the reasons for that philosophy and to offer suggestions for change. It begins with a brief review of Wyoming water law with an emphasis on those aspects of the law relating to water transfers. It then considers the particular provisions relating to water transfers, and reviews their interpretation by the agencies and the courts. The article concludes with suggestions for changing Wyoming's water transfer laws to encourage more efficient use, while at the same time protecting environmental values and other water users. Many of these suggestions apply equally well to other prior appropriation states.

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