Harriet Hageman Defends Her Record on Wyoming’s Water in Exclusive Op-Ed
Written by Caleb Nelson on July 21, 2022
As the Republican primary in August approaches, the race for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat continues to intensify. Current polls have incumbent Rep. Liz Cheney down as much as twenty points, trailing candidate Harriet Hageman.
Former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Hageman has highlighted important differences between Hageman and Cheney. These differences have only widened with Cheney serving as the vice chair of the House select committee investigating the events of January 6th.
Wyoming State Senator Anthony Bouchard is also running for Wyoming’s House seat. Recently, Mr. Bouchard leveled serious allegations against Hageman. Bouchard claims Hageman lied about her involvement in a regional watershed supply project that evaluated a “diversion of water” from the Green River Basin.
Posting on Facebook this week, Bouchard wrote, “Hageman lied about this all along. On the campaign trail, Hageman insists that she knows nothing about the Colorado Developer, Mr. Aaron Million’s Water Pipeline.”
Bouchard has also accused the media of ignoring the issue, writing, “The media refuses to report.” Bouchard acknowledged that Bill Sniffin of Cowboy State Daily has “printed various cover stories.”
Now, in an exclusive op-ed for KODI Radio, Hageman is responding to “unfounded accusations” in TV ads—in addition to Bouchard’s allegations—that suggest Hageman previously sought to give away Wyoming’s water to Colorado.
Below is Hageman’s op-ed:
Desperation Leads to Lies: My Record on Protecting Wyoming’s Water
by Harriet M. Hageman
The Rumor Mill
The rumor-mill has now gone public, with unfounded accusations being turned into a slick TV advertisement paid for by an outside group that apparently can’t stand the thought that Wyoming will hold Liz Cheney accountable for her betrayal of our great State, and her obsession with destroying President Trump. In their desperation to find some way to attack me, they are pushing the narrative that I have somehow “put Wyoming last,” and implying that I previously sought to give Wyoming’s water to Colorado.
The people behind this TV ad apparently don’t understand that we don’t tolerate liars in Wyoming, nor do we countenance those who do.
The facts are indisputable: I have NEVER worked on any project to give, transfer, sell, or bargain away Wyoming’s water to Colorado (or any other state). 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. Regardless of the explanation, however, one fact remains: In their desperation to save Liz Cheney they are spreading lies.
In fact, Bill Sniffin, columnist and publisher emeritus of the Cowboy State Daily, took a look at the issue and declared the attacks to be false.
“One pro-Cheney outfit is running ads implying Hageman worked to help Colorado get Wyoming water,” he wrote. “I talked with the promoter of that project, Aaron Million of Fort Collins, and he confirmed that Hageman never worked for them. The ad is dishonest.”
Background and Water History
I was hired by the State of Wyoming in 1997 as one of the lead trial attorneys on Nebraska v. Wyoming, the dispute over the North Platte River. I have since spent the last twenty-five years fighting to protect Wyoming’s water rights, to enforce our water laws, to ensure that our water right holders are able to access and use their property rights, to work with our municipalities on long-term water planning, to preserve our farming and ranching heritage, and to enforce Wyoming’s entitlements under the various interstate Compacts and Decrees to which we are parties.
In addition to being an expert on the 1945 North Platte River Decree and Modified Decree (entered in 2001), I have also studied and worked on issues related to the Niobrara River Compact, the Laramie River Decree, the Belle Fourche River Compact, and the Colorado River Compact. There are few people in Wyoming who have the same level of understanding of these documents and the related river systems as do I, and my depth of knowledge provides a huge advantage for protecting what I believe is the State’s most precious resource — our water.
I have dedicated much of my career to making sure that Wyoming is protected when it comes to our water rights, and I will continue to do so as Wyoming’s next Congresswoman in terms of providing funding for water infrastructure (including our Bureau of Reclamation projects located throughout the State), and protecting our entitlements under the interstate Compacts and Decrees to which we are parties.
The Colorado River Compact
Which brings me to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, as it is the subject of the nonsensical rumors and innuendo that are swirling during this political season. In order to put those claims in context, however, it is necessary to provide a bit of information about the basics of what that Compact provides. That Compact apportioned the Colorado River system between the Upper Basin States (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) and the Lower Basin States (California, Arizona, and Nevada), with each basin being entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, as divided among the individual states. For the Upper Basin States, ownership interests are: Colorado (51.75%), Wyoming (14%), Utah (23%), and New Mexico (11.25%).
Flaming Gorge Reservoir straddles the Wyoming-Utah border, has a capacity of close to 4,000,000 acre feet, and was constructed to ensure that the Upper Basin States would be able to exercise their entitlements under the Compact. It was built and is operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).
It is common in the Western United States for USBR reservoirs to store water for use in multiple states. The water stored in Pathfinder Reservoir in Central Wyoming, for example, is delivered to users in both Wyoming and Nebraska. The water stored in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, while located in Arizona/Nevada and Utah, is owned by California, Arizona and Nevada.
Wyoming, like the other states, is entitled to appropriate and use its Colorado River Compact apportionment (14% of the water) as per our laws. We must do everything we can to defend that right—and I have. The State of Colorado also has an ownership interest in Compact water (51.75% as noted above), an entitlement that no other State has the right to interfere with, and a right that it may exercise as it chooses.
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. 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. While we will block anyone’s efforts to interfere with Wyoming’s rights, Wyoming cannot interfere with the rights of other States, including Colorado.
My Work on the Colorado River Compact
I was hired many years ago by several public water providers in Wyoming and Colorado (“the Coalition”) to explore the feasibility of constructing a pipeline from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to eastern Wyoming and Colorado. Our work in that regard is not the “Million project,” neither I nor my law firm ever worked for Aaron Million, and I vehemently disagreed with what he was proposing (which I will explain below).
I made clear when I agreed to work for the Coalition that it would be critical to engage and work with all of the stakeholders in Western Wyoming from the beginning; to ensure that they were kept informed of all engineering and hydrologic analyses; and that the Coalition must acknowledge and provide for Western Wyoming’s long-term water demands and needs. The Coalition in fact held a well-attended public meeting in Western Wyoming soon after I became involved, and continued to meet with the County Commissioners and other community leaders thereafter. My view was that without the involvement of Western Wyoming, it would be difficult if not impossible to proceed with any such project. Protecting Western Wyoming’s water interests was thus critically important to me and the other people involved.
When evaluating the feasibility and particulars of constructing a pipeline, the Coalition worked closely with a variety of people and organizations in Western Wyoming to look at the full gamut of issues, including economics, mitigation of impacts, future manufacturing and industrial needs, municipal demands, and recreation. With an eye towards ensuring growth in Western Wyoming, the Coalition actually included a proposal to subordinate its water rights to allow for additional development. The Coalition also had discussions with folks in the Upper Green River related to the construction of additional storage for their use. We also considered how Wyoming could develop and use the water in Fontenelle Reservoir.
It must also be kept in mind that there were several critically important differences between what the Coalition was considering and Million’s project. One of the most important differences relates to the fact that his project would have taken water directly from the mainstem of the Green River, whereas the Coalition was only considering diverting water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir. 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. Another difference was that the Coalition was made up of public water providers, who are answerable and accountable to the citizens, rather than a private individual controlling what should be public water supplies.
Which brings us full circle: it is now being implied that my work for the Coalition was actually an effort to give Wyoming’s water to the front range of Colorado. That claim is absurd.
I worked to ensure that Wyoming’s water was protected for Wyoming. 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. I engaged with folks from both Eastern and Western Wyoming, as well as the front range of Colorado to come up with innovative ideas for managing our water resources so that we could meet the long-term demands and needs of our State as a whole, including Western Wyoming.
Contrary to “putting Wyoming Last,” I was at the table working with the Coalition to ensure that Wyoming’s interests and Compact entitlements were protected. Any claims to the contrary are lies.
False Claims are Dangerous
The false allegations are absurd for another reason as well, and the proponents of this nonsense are playing a very dangerous game with Wyoming’s future. Their lies imply that the State of Wyoming has the ability to block Colorado from using its Compact water as it sees fit, and that anyone who recognizes Colorado’s rights is somehow a “Wyoming last” traitor. They clearly do not understand the Colorado River Compact, and are willing, for political purposes, to try to pit Wyoming and Colorado against each other in terms of our water apportionments. Contrary to their implication, Colorado, being an Upper Basin State, is not our enemy when it comes to the Compact, but an incredibly important ally as we both have a vested interest in protecting our entitlements against the Lower Basin States’ demands.
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. 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. If you don’t know the basics of the Colorado River Compact, of the fact that USBR reservoirs may hold a variety of ownerships, of the fact that California and Arizona are the threats (not Colorado), you not only don’t represent us, but you can’t represent us.
The next decade will decide whether Wyoming can hold on to its rights under the Colorado River Compact. We cannot elect someone who is entirely incapable of meeting that moment. 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.
They should be ashamed.
I am willing to debate anyone on these issues at any time. What I won’t put up with is a political operative or campaign lying about my record in order to pursue a narrative that could eventually drive a wedge between Wyoming and Colorado on the Colorado River Compact, and thereby weaken our ability to protect our water from being taken by Arizona, Nevada and California.
I understand that the Colorado River Compact is complicated. Western water law is complicated. Finding ways to meet our long-term water demand throughout Wyoming is complicated. The politics of water policy is complicated. Interstate river systems are complicated. Attempting to plan for 50-100 years from now in terms of meeting the demand for manufacturing, industrial, municipal, agriculture, and recreational uses is complicated.
What isn’t complicated? Dedicating your career, as I have, to always protecting Wyoming by protecting our water rights. My opponents? In their desperation to defeat me, they use fear and lies to weaken our State and undermine our Colorado River Compact entitlements.
In closing, I have never sought to give Wyoming’s water away to another State. Anyone desperate enough to claim otherwise is a liar.
Harriet Hageman is a Wyoming native, a constitutional attorney, a former Republican National Committeewoman from Wyoming, and a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Wyoming.