May 5, 2022 |

The wells that the Town of Saratoga uses for municipal drinking water will no longer be subject to calls on the North Platte River issued by the State Engineer. The State Engineer’s Office (SEO) issued such a call in April which required the town to replenish any water it pumped from the wells northeast of town from April 7th to April 30th.

Previous engineering studies, including a Level 1 Watershed Study prepared December 2015 by Anderson Consulting for the Wyoming Water Development Commission, had determined that the wells are not connected hydrologically to the river and, therefore, have no role in the administration of Wyoming water rights.

The SEO issued the call because forecast flows into Pathfinder Reservoir are expected to fall below a legal threshold amount of 1-million acre feet this season.

At the April 19th town council meeting, Mayor Creed James requested that Public Works Director Jon Winter take up the question with the state engineer’s office. Winter reported back Tuesday night, saying that the SEO agrees with the finding that town’s wells are off limits to calls on the North Platte.

Pictured above: File photo of the Upper North Platte River. Photo by Bigfoot 99.

The basic outcome is that the Town of Saratoga’s municipal water supply will not be subject to a call as long as the North Platte River Decree and state law does not change. The Modified North Platte River decree issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on November 13, 2001 dismissed claims and counter claims brought by Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming over an original 1945 agreement, and lays out new rules for apportioning the North Platte.

The modified decree specifically mentions diversions from groundwater wells upstream of Pathfinder Dam that are hydrologically connected to the North Platte River as being subject to administration of water rights. Proving that a well is not connected to the river is a significant and valuable finding for Saratoga.

Saratoga’s the groundwater well-field in the North Park Aquifer east of town. Engineers pursued developing it in 2007 after they determined it was not connected to the North Platte, and off-limits to administration during low water years on the river. Saratoga has pumped water from the aquifer for its municipal supply since 2009.

Because the state engineer agrees the North Park Aquifer is not subject to administration, Winter said Saratoga will not have to replenish the water it pumped from the wells between April 7th and April 30th.

After the call was first announced last month, Saratoga pursued a contract with the Wyoming Water Development Commission to purchase 25 acre feet of so-called “paper” water for approximately $800. The town was projected to pump about 25-acree feet of water during that three week period based on historic averages.

Winter had prepared a contract with the WWDC to purchase the water for this year.

Mayor Creed James said he did not think it was necessary to pursue now. Winter said he would keep the contract handy just in case.

Council unanimously approved a motion for Mayor James to sign the letter to the state engineer’s office to create the document trail that will be used to safeguard Saratoga’s water supply during future administration of priority rights on the North Platte.

Meanwhile, with water in the Upper North Platte River drainage a continuing concern, the legislature’s joint water committee will review a report next week on Cloud Seeding Operations in the Medicine Bow and Sierra Mountain Ranges. According to the agenda, the water committee will also consider a contract for the work. The meeting is set for Thursday May 12th at 9:50 Cheyenne.


Related: State engineer’s office issues call to protect senior water rights

Related: Town of Saratoga exploring options to deal with priority call on water rights

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