State's congressional delegation proposes act to streamline water permits

2014-06-08T12:00:00Z State's congressional delegation proposes act to streamline water permitsBy TREVOR GRAFF Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 08, 2014 12:00 pm  • 

Wyoming Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi introduced legislation that would ease permitting requirements for construction of new surface water storage projects in the western United States.

The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act would give the Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior, the authority to direct all federal agencies in expediting the permitting of surface water storage projects.

Current law requires permit approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The proposed legislation, introduced Wednesday, makes the Bureau of Reclamation a “one-stop shop” for entities attempting to permit storage projects.

“Streamlining the permitting process will make it easier for communities in Wyoming and throughout the West to gain access to the water they need to keep their operations running strong,” Barrasso said.

Water storage projects

The legislation expedites permitting while streamlining the process for new water storage projects on Interior Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture land.

The Bureau of Reclamation would then coordinate federal permitting decisions, which include requirements of the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act and compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis introduced the same legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 31.

Patrick O’Toole, a Wyoming rancher and the president of the Family Farm Alliance, testified at a 2014 hearing of the House Water and Power Subcommittee. In his testimony, he talked about the difficulties of the permitting process.

O’Toole cited his experience with the High Savery Project, a small dam built 20 miles north of Savery, in south-central Wyoming. In working to site the dam, officials waited 14 years for the completion of permitting.

Essential process

In his testimony before Congress, O’Toole said streamlining this process is essential to ensuring water security in the West.

“If we don’t find a way to restore water supply reliability for Western irrigated agriculture through a combination of new infrastructure, other supply enhancement efforts and demand management, our country’s ability to feed and clothe itself and the world will be jeopardized,” O’Toole said.

Under the proposed legislation, all environmental reviews would be required to meet timelines formulated by the Bureau of Reclamation and use one document for all agencies. The bill’s supporters say this will cut the time needed for processing permits.

The bill was introduced to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Barrasso is a member of the committee and said he is confident it will gain support with his colleagues on the committee.

The federal legislation was announced as state officials met in Casper on Wednesday with ranchers and other interest groups for a public discussion of the Wyoming Water Strategy.

The plan is entering a final 60-day comment period and will set the tone for the future of water policy in the state.

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