By Sarah Pridgeon
The County Commissioners have officially requested that the City of Gillette provide water to landowners near Carlile whose wells have run dry or suddenly turned acidic. At the request of Senator Ogden Driskill, the commissioners penned a letter last week asking Gillette to hook the affected landowners up on a temporary basis to the Madison pipeline.
According to Driskill, Gillette is unwilling to provide a temporary hookup, leaving the landowners entirely without a usable water source for their own needs and to provide for their livestock.
“We’ve got a number of wells that went dry, we’ve got acid in wells – there’s a problem,” said Driskill. He noted that the wells did not dry up slowly, but that the problem appeared virtually overnight.
While the cause of the issue as not yet known and the Department of Environmental Quality is in the process of testing the wells, Driskill said, the properties do lie within the well fields of the Madison Water Project and the problem appeared shortly after Gillette began to dig new wells.
He told the commissioners that he has spoken to representatives from the DEQ, State Engineer’s Office and Oil and Gas Commission about how to address the problem and that the Select Water Committee, on which he sits, was willing to approve providing temporary water.
Driskill’s goal, he says, is to see the affected landowners made whole. He asked the commissioners to help him encourage Gillette to “do the right thing”.
“The City of Gillette is unwilling, partially for liability reasons,” he said. “These guys are hauling water for cows and hauling water for houses. That’s not right.”
If it takes two or three years to identify and solve the problem, that leaves the landowners hauling water through the difficult winter months and potentially for a significant period of time, Driskill said. He expressed his frustration that Gillette is refusing to provide water to prevent this from happening, particularly as there are usable taps very close to the land in question.
“There’s a hundred ways to deal with these things and they’ve chosen to bone up,” he said.
The new wells under construction for the Madison Water Project are a $317 million project largely funded by the state and handled by the City of Gillette, Driskill said. The money left over from construction could be used to hook up the landowners to the pipeline, he suggested.
“They are $30 million under on the project – that has been part of my heartburn, it’s not like we’re short of money,” said Driskill.
County Attorney Joe Baron, however, pointed out that, as part of the money came from the one percent sales tax, Gillette is beholden to the taxpayers on how it is spent. The city must also account for its spending to the state as the state provided funding, he added.
However, Driskill noted that he has spoken with Harry LaBonde, Director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission, and received confirmation that hooking the landowners onto the pipeline would absolutely be regarded as a project-related cost.
The commissioners agreed to write a letter to the City of Gillette, Campbell County Commission and other involved entities including the State Engineers Office and State Lands and Investments.
“The Board of Crook County Commissioners requests that the City of Gillette immediately furnish and maintain domestic and livestock water, at no cost, to affected parties in the Madison Water Project area,” states the letter, asking that water be provided until the cause of the issue is determined.
The cause of the water well issue is as yet unknown; nor is it yet whether the issue will spread further. Commissioner Kelly Dennis, whose own land sits near the affected area, commented he has heard talk that another well may have run dry near Thorn Divide, several miles from where the problem was initially identified.
The Department of Environmental Quality began testing wells in the area recently and is working to understand the problem.