Fighting for Water in Cheyenne

By Richard Garrett, Jr.
Your voice for conservation at the Wyoming State Legislature

THE WYOMING HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES WILL BEGIN DELIBERATING a bill this week meant to establish stronger standards for landfills in Wyoming.

The bill, Senate File 121, has already passed the Senate.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council worked hard with many others to strengthen this legislation before it reached the House, and barring amendments we are now encouraging its passage into law. Here is why.

Before the landfills bill was sent to the full Senate for a vote, it was substantially rewritten based on the efforts and discussions of a broad range of stakeholders who came together in an effort to reach a consensus.

This group’s participants included State Sen. Eli Bebout (who introduced the original bill), the Wyoming Outdoor Council and other conservation groups, the City of Casper, the Fremont County Solid Waste District, and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality in an advisory capacity.

As a result of our efforts, the bill now correctly and explicitly references well-established federal standards for landfill designs.

What this means is that the state’s groundwater resources—the water aquifers under and near Wyoming’s existing and future landfills—have been afforded crucial protections.

Our members can be assured that we’ll continue to be engaged in the implementation of this law, should it pass, and during the rule-making process at the Department of Environmental Quality. We’ve done good work but there’s more work to be done.

“This bill essentially affirms what the federal government requires for the protection of groundwater and for the storage of solid waste at municipal landfills, and that’s a good thing,” said Steve Jones, watershed protection program attorney for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “This bill makes it clear that municipal landfills will now be required by the state to meet important protective standards for underground aquifers.”

REACHING A CONSENSUS

This year’s original landfills bill was crafted closely after a bill that failed in 2009, one which we strongly opposed.

We were against the 2009 bill and we were against this year’s original bill because each would have failed to accomplish what we know is one of the most important tasks for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality—water resource protection from the consequences of badly designed and poorly sited municipal landfills.

With the support of our members, we were able to encourage Senator Bebout, fellow conservation groups, landfill operators, and advisors from the DEQ to reach a consensus on a good substitute bill.

Assuming it’s not amended and is approved by the house, we will encourage Gov. Matt Mead’s signature.

It is common wisdom in Wyoming, if not a common commitment, that the state’s groundwater is our most precious natural resource.

From Sundance to Rock Springs and in the halls of the Capitol, you’ll often hear people repeat the phrase that in Wyoming “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.”

It’s a way of recognizing how crucial water is to a state that is, in large part, a high plains desert.

The fact is, though, that underneath all of our sage and sand lies a lot of water. Some of it is highly saline and laced with a variety of minerals but much of it is clean and entirely fit for drinking—and fighting over.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council and its members have a long history of standing up for the state’s water resources and the people that depend upon them.

The Council’s water protection program, headed up by Steve Jones, has worked from border to border to try to make sure that water is protected from the possibility of contamination by development and is thus available for future generations. And we’ve fought for clean water at the Capitol in Cheyenne, too.

We know that water will continue to be the inspiration for some fighting in this state. But, with this bill, we believe we’ve won an important battle along the way.

If you’d like to know more about SF 121—or any other bill—please be in touch with Richard Garrett, the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s legislative advocate, at richard@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org; 307-438-9516.

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