CHEYENNE—Members of a working group created by Gov. Mark Gordon to “disseminate information” and “act as a sounding board for the public and stakeholders” on the Colorado River Compact issue said Monday they would reported growing public dissatisfaction with access.
Formed in 2021, the Colorado River Working Group essentially serves as a consulting body and communication conduit between water users in the Green and Little Snake river basins and state engineering agencies.
At the group’s meeting on Monday, members said constituents were confused. reported that it has addressed complaints from stakeholders who are unable to obtain
At the same meeting, State Engineer Brandon Gebhart argued that the agency was not subject to the state’s open meeting law and said he was hesitant to take questions from the public during the working group’s meetings. Monday’s meeting, like the previous six, was open to the public, but was never live-streamed or made available to those not in attendance, according to the office.
According to Gebhart, this is by design.
“I’m a little worried when I start any of these things. [live-streamed presentations] No topic will be resolved before the questions start coming in,” Gebhart told members of the working group. In his WyoFile follow-up on Tuesday, Gebhart added:
The working group meetings are aimed at discussing how to hash the information and disseminate it to water users, Gebhart said. directly between
While there was no formal call for public comments or questions at Monday’s meeting, working group members, SEOs and the Attorney General’s Office responded to several questions from members of the public in attendance.
The main topic of Monday’s discussion was how SEOs scrambled to involve eligible water users in conservation programs that pay them to voluntarily leave water in the streams that feed the Colorado River. I was asked if I was wearing it.
According to SEO, explaining programs and eligibility requirements to the myriad of water users is complex, and many in the farming community in particular are skeptical of government-sponsored programs aimed at reducing water use. Frames make the effort more difficult. The Upper Colorado River Commission announced that it would be calling for proposals for a system integrity pilot program on December 14, with a February 1 submission deadline.
According to the agency, the SEO overseeing the program in Wyoming wants to enroll as many participants as possible. The state and its upstream partners are committed to making progress in fostering a variety of voluntary water conservation efforts to build the case against potential reductions mandated under the Colorado River Accord or federal intervention. must be shown. Government agencies rely on working group members to help with questions on the ground and explain potential benefits of the program. But so far, confusion reigns, members note.
“Conservation areas really don’t know very well what’s going on and can’t ask enough questions. We need more formal outreach in the country.”
Industrial water users in southwestern Wyoming — Trona mines, natural gas processors and power companies — are “craving for information,” said Genesis Alkali working group member Aaron Rachel.
Senator Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), who is also a member of the working group, said, “There are many concerns about this system integrity pilot project.”Concerns include ‘Timeframe to Acquire’ [information], who to contact, who will answer these questions to create the application, what are you eligible for, all these questions. . ”
Working group composition
Anticipating the need to protect the interests of Wyoming water users from the effects of the Colorado River crisis, Gordon formed the Colorado River Working Group in 2021 and appointed eight members. This group includes his two representatives of municipal water users. One is a farmer, one is an environmentalist, two are industrial water users, and he is two members of Congress—Senator Hicks and Representative Somers.
Gordon said, “To help disseminate information broadly to interested stakeholders about key issues in the Colorado/Green/Little Snake River Basin, and to support members as Wyoming navigates key river issues.” We left it up to our members to provide insights,” Gebhardt told WyoFile in an email, adding that the SEO said: It relies on working groups to strengthen its own public relations efforts.
In forming the group, Gordon agreed with SEO’s suggestions, according to Gebhart, and the group has so far decided to mostly adhere to open meeting standards, according to Gebhart.
Gordon’s office did not give a direct answer as to why the working group justified the state’s exemption from the public meeting law. As such, the agency at first glance appears obligated to operate with transparency, but according to Bruce Motes of Wyoming, such quasi-governmental groups could and do exist. To do. Lawyer specializing in First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Wyoming media law.
“This group seems to exist in a kind of gray area,” Moates said. “The question is why do you want the option to end the meeting? [to the public] If there is an exemption under the Public Assembly Act that allows it. Why? ”
At the request of group members on Monday, Gebhart agreed to consider hosting a webinar to give members of the public an opportunity to ask questions about the Colorado River issue and SEO efforts to register water users with the SCPP. bottom.
“We’re not trying to restrict what information is available to the public,” Gebhardt told WyoFile. “Ultimately, our goal is to provide more and more accurate information to those who may be affected by the current situation.”