Laramie adopts ordinance requiring use of its water

LARAMIE — Despite the urgings of the University of Wyoming, the Laramie City Council on Wednesday passed an ordinance on its third and final reading in an attempt to regulate the use of non-municipal water within city limits.

The ordinance requires Laramie residents and all other entities to use water from the city’s municipal water supply when within its borders. Korry Lewis, an attorney working with the city on water law matters, told the council in July that there were a variety of important reasons for enacting the ordinance, including protecting the city’s water from uncontrolled discharge, protecting the supply for future growth and assuring the fiscal integrity of the city’s utility.

UW has drilled and is seeking to permit water wells for campus irrigation, according to a letter to the City Council from Tara Evans, the university’s general counsel. Water wells in the final stages of permitting have “been the topic of considerable collaborative discussion between the City and University,” she wrote.

With those projects in mind, UW urged the council on behalf of the board of trustees not to pass the ordinance because, Evans wrote, it would be an illegal action.

“It has long been the law in Wyoming that cities, towns, and counties have only such power as they have been given by the Wyoming State Legislature via enabling statutes,” Evans wrote. “This ‘creature rule’ is a recognition that all power under Wyoming law flows from the Wyoming State Legislature and the Wyoming Constitution. Cities, towns, and counties are ‘creatures’ of the Wyoming State Legislature. Because municipalities like Laramie are created by statute, municipalities have only such power as granted to them by statutes controlling the establishment and operation of municipalities in the state of Wyoming.”

Evans advised the council that should it pass the ordinance, the university would continue with its projects whether or not the city attempts to assert control in the matter.

“(T)he University will continue to assert that it does not need permission from the City to use water from its ground water wells which will soon be fully permitted by the Wyoming State Engineer for beneficial use on campus,” Evans wrote. “We believe the passage of this Proposed Ordinance will be decided in favor of the University by the courts.”

Before voting on the final reading of the ordinance during a special meeting Wednesday, Mayor Joe Shumway read a statement firing back on several of Evans’s points.

“We are not a ‘creature’ of the Wyoming state Legislature – obviously Laramie existed long before Wyoming became a state,” Shumway said. “Laramie began selling water to many water users including the Union Pacific Railroad twenty years before the state of Wyoming even existed.”

Shumway said it was his opinion that Laramie did have the right to regulate the use of non-municipal water within borders, and that the funds generated from that utility were critical to infrastructure that ultimately supports the university.

“To emphasize how unfair the relationship between the city of Laramie and the University of Wyoming is, I feel it important to point out that the cost to maintain our streets, the cost of a police department, the fire department and (emergency medical technician) services are paid for by every citizen, business and tourist in Laramie,” Shumway continued. “Who doesn’t pay for streets, police, fire, EMT services and the administration costs to provide these services? The University of Wyoming.”

While the city does receive some tax dollars in the form of PILT, or payments in lieu of taxes, Shumway said the relationship between the city, university and state was generally still lopsided in favor of the latter entities.

“Not only has PILT never been paid by the University of Wyoming or the Wyoming state Legislature to Laramie, it must be noted that the city of Laramie is also grossly underfunded by the state legislature,” Shumway said. “Laramie receives the lowest direct distribution funds per capita of all 99 communities within Wyoming.”

Former Wyoming Senate president and local attorney Phil Nicholas advised the council during the ordinance’s second reading in July that the city would be risking retaliation from the state Legislature — as he said it had in the past — should it take action that he felt was clearly directed at the university.

“We know this is directed toward the University of Wyoming and projects the Legislature cares greatly about,” Nicholas said July 21. “When you undertake to extend your extraterritorial authority, now toward a governmental entity, you’re taking on the citizens of Wyoming, and it’s a fight I don’t think you’re going to win.”

Despite the warnings from UW and Nicholas, Shumway said he felt the ordinance was a “claim to clarify that our municipal water is protected by the constitutional powers of the United States and Wyoming.”

“If the claim by the letter from the attorney of the UW Board of trustees is correct, that our water ordinance is an illegal action then the trustees have nothing to worry about,” Shumway wrote.

The ordinance passed on a 7-1 vote, with Councilwoman Jessica Stalder voting “no.” Councilman Paul Weaver abstained from the vote because he was not present for the motion.