By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The latest water dispute between the City of Laramie and the University of Wyoming has made its way to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
An appeal filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court by Laramie stems from the city’s efforts to drill on land given by the university to the city. It follows a dispute university wells that led to the creation of a new law blocking cities and counties from restricting how the UW uses its water.
At issue is a city plan to drill a well in an area called “Painted Point” in northeast Laramie.
The land in question was given to the university in 1965 by Union Pacific Railroad, which kept for itself the area’s mineral rights and the exclusive rights to drill for water for any reason other than domestic purposes.
In 1981, the railroad gave the city permission to drill for water on land in the area. The railroad’s permission was required because of a 1946 agreement that neither the city nor the railroad would drill new wells without the consent of the other.
In 1982, the university gave the land in question to Laramie for use as a street, alley or easement.
Laramie applied for a well permit in April 2017 and the university sought a court order in May 2021 to stop the city’s work on the well.
The university argued it had an interest in the property where the well would be located that would be harmed if the city was allowed to drill. A state district court ruled in favor of the university in July 2021.
But the city argued the university’s interests could not be harmed because it had no interest in the land or the water to be produced from the well.
“Simply put, the university does not own any water drilling rights at the Painted Point whatsoever, and consequently, the city’s exercise of those water drilling rights cannot constitute an injury to the university,” the city’s brief to the Supreme Court said.
As a result, the university lacks the proper authority to challenge the city’s plans, the brief said.
The brief also said the state district court failed to adequately consider the Union Pacific’s agreement allowing the city to drill for water.
The university has until Monday to file its response.
The dispute is the latest between the university and the city over water. Previous arguments resulted in 2021 in a new state law that prohibits any city or county from restricting the university in the construction of water systems or the use of its own water.
The law stemmed from Laramie’s decision in 2007 to begin charging for water it provided the university for the irrigation of Jacoby Golf Course. The decision reversed a policy in place since the 1950s that saw the city give the water to the university at no charge.
In response, the university drilled two wells on land next to the golf course and planned to irrigate the course with that water. But the city adopted an ordinance that blocked the university from crossing city land to deliver its water to the golf course.
The bill that nullified the city ordinance was adopted only after legislators criticized both the university and the city for failing to work toward a solution to the dispute.
“In all candor, this bill is a disgrace,” Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said at the time. “(The UW and Laramie) have chosen to fight, chosen to lawyer up and brought a mess to us. But if we don’t pass this bill, there will be an extensive lawsuit and further difficulties and we may have to spend money on both the university and the city getting things right.”