WyoFile: BIA questioned for management of irrigation system

WyoFile reports on the difference between an irrigation system managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and one managed by others:
The two main irrigation systems on the Wind River Indian Reservation could hardly be more different. The Bureau of Indian Affairs manages one, a sprawling network of canals running south and east of the Washakie Reservoir and the Little Wind River. Local water users run the other, a smaller system in Crowheart (pop. 141) between Fort Washakie and Dubois. Much of the system that the BIA directly controls ran dry seven weeks ago. The system that local users run — on paper they are contractors working for the BIA — will deliver water until the irrigation season ends in early October.

Many ranchers on the BIA-controlled system are culling their herds because they can’t grow or buy enough hay to feed their cattle. Irrigators on the Crowheart system have prospered, even during a drought that has dragged on, with an occasional wet year, for more than a decade. Water fees on the BIA-run system are $21 per acre per year, whether water is delivered for the full season or not. In Crowheart, users pay $14 per acre.

Every acre in Crowheart is leased to a farmer or rancher, according to the local irrigators who control the system. Not so in the lower system. Anyone who drives the back roads north of Lander sees unplanted fields overgrown with knapweed. Most of the ranchers and farmers there, south of Fort Washakie and Ethete, draw water from Ray Canal, which branches into a web of irrigation canals, laterals and ditches fed by the Washakie Reservoir and the Little Wind River. Ray Canal has been dry since about August 1.

Get the Story:
Drought, controversy may spur changes in Wind River irrigation management (WyoFile 9/18)

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