By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
U.S. House candidate Harriet Hageman said she does not and never has advocated for Wyoming to “bargain away Wyoming’s water.”
A commercial recently ran on behalf of her opponent U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney which criticized Hageman’s role in a project that would have diverted water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir near Green River to Colorado.
“That is their water. Colorado has the ability to do whatever is in its best interests,” Hageman says in the recording, which was taped during a presentation she made before the Casper City Council in 2010.
The advertisement voiceover narrator asks why Hageman doesn’t stand up for what is in Wyoming residents’ best interests.
In an op-ed Hageman wrote for the Big Horn Basin Radio Network on Thursday she clarified her comment.
She wrote that under the rules of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado retains a 51.75% interest stake in the water of the Colorado River system. That Compact apportioned the Colorado River system between the Upper Basin States and the Lower Basin States with each basin being entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, as divided among the individual states. The Upper Basin states are not using anywhere near their full allotment of water.
“Wyoming has the right to decide where it will use its water, when it will use that water, and how it will use that water,” Hageman said in the op-ed. “Colorado likewise has the same right. That is the Law of the River. Stability and certainty in water rights administration is critically important, as is protecting our entitlements under interstate water compacts and decrees.”
Hageman, a land and water rights attorney, said she was hired as a legal representative for several public Wyoming and Colorado water providers, known as the “Coalition.” The group wanted to explore the feasibility of constructing a pipeline from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to eastern Wyoming and the Front Range of Colorado. This project was first brought up publicly around 2009 but as late as September 2017, Hageman was still advocating for the Flaming Gorge project.
Hageman said the Coalition involved Western Wyoming stakeholders through an extensive process also aiming to provide benefits to their part of the state.
“I have NEVER worked on any project to give, transfer, sell, or bargain away Wyoming’s water to Colorado (or any other state),” she said in a press release. “Any person who claims that I have done so, or that I would do so, is either not telling the truth, they do not understand Wyoming water law, they do not understand interstate water law, they do not understand the Colorado River Compact, or some combination of all four.”
Cheney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hageman’s statement.
Hageman said “nonsensical rumors and innuendo” imply that Wyoming has the right to block Colorado from using its share of Compact water and that she has never worked to give or sell away Wyoming’s water.
“I worked to ensure that Wyoming’s water was protected for Wyoming,” Hageman said in the op-ed. “I worked for the Coalition to explore options to use Wyoming’s water in Wyoming, and Colorado’s water in Colorado, and to thereby prevent it from going downstream to California, Nevada, and Arizona, which is where it goes now.”
Bouchard: Hageman Lied
Another one of her opponents, State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, claims Hageman lied about her involvement in a regional watershed supply project proposed by Colorado entrepreneur Aaron Million.
“Hageman has lied about this all along,” Bouchard said in a Tuesday Facebook post. “On the campaign trail, Hageman insists that ‘she knows nothing’ about Colorado Developer, Mr. Aaron Million’s Water Pipeline. But the truth is, Hageman was embedded with several Colorado water districts and their — “it’s their water too” — campaign.”
Hageman said this was a separate project and Million’s privately-orchestrated plan would have diverted water from the main stem of the Green River, while hers was only considering diverting water from Flaming Gorge.
A Communities Protecting the Green Committee was formed in 2009 to take legal action if water ever was to be diverted from the Green River. The organization became the Sweetwater County Water Users Coalition in 2021.
“The Coalition’s project would have thus allowed for a much broader operating band (to take water in times of excess and forego water during dry times), thereby minimizing impacts on Reservoir capacity and levels,” Hageman said in her press release.
Diverting Wyo Water
According to the Colorado Sun, in 2018, Million’s company submitted an application to the White House for a right to divert water from the Green River below Flaming Gorge reservoir before it snakes into Colorado. As of May he was still working on the project.
In a recent interview with Cowboy State Daily, Million said Hageman was not involved in his project.
“It is a bad idea for someone who seeks to represent Wyoming in Congress to be attacking the very foundation of one of our most important interstate compacts,” Hageman said in her op-ed. “I also believe that it should be disqualifying for someone who seeks to hold Wyoming’s lone congressional seat to have no understanding of interstate water law.”
At a forum held in Evanston Tuesday night, Bouchard did not bring up the issue.
“That is not where my voters are,” he said in a Thursday interview with Cowboy State Daily. “Not in that place.”
He said he does plan to bring this issue up during an upcoming debate on July 30 in Gillette.
Hageman considers Colorado an ally in water rights and said the next decade will be critical for retaining Wyoming’s interests in the compact.
“We cannot elect someone who is entirely incapable of meeting that moment,” she wrote in the op-ed. “So, while those trafficking in the false information may smugly believe that they were targeting my record by airing that absurd TV commercial, the unintended consequence of its actions is that the real target may very well be the State of Wyoming itself. Their desperation of lies has now been exposed to have real world consequences.”