Tribes Seek to Secure Water Authority

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – Tribal members on the Wind River Indian Reservation seeking to secure their ability to administer water rights on their land will meet next week to consider forming irrigation or conservation districts.
Recent court rulings have changed the already complex issue of water law on the reservation, said Kassel Weeks, a member of the North Fork Water Users Group and the Eastern Shoshone tribe.

One case in particular could set a precedent for state administration of private water rights along ditches in the reservation, he said.

In a federal case decided last month, a jury found that Tribal Water Engineer Gary Collins and his brothers had interfered with the water rights of another family on Little Wind River Ditch No. 5.

A judge ruled that Collins had a conflict of interest, and ordered that authority of water rights along the ditch be transferred to a state water division superintendent

Despite unique circumstances of the Collins case, Weeks said the ruling could lead to more state administration of private water rights on the reservation.

Weeks said his water-users group plans to establish an irrigation or conservation district, and will encourage others to do the same.

In an irrigation district, members set up their own administration of the water rights.

As it is, a tribal water engineer administers rights owned by individuals or tribes. The state administers rights owned by non-Indian water users.

The meeting is 6 p.m., July 16, at Rocky Mountain Hall.