Around Park County, this time of the year brings residents and visitors many scents of the season, including blooming flowers, fresh rain… and smoke.

This is the time that many farmers and ranchers begin to burn their lands to make the soil riper for the upcoming planting season. Additionally, burning is a common way to clean out irrigation ditches that have had seasons of waste and weeds build up in them.

Irrigation is the key to our area’s ability to provide a healthy crop supply every year. As early (and even recent!) settlers of Wyoming quickly discovered, the arid lands of this area needed more than the 6-10 inches of rain to complete a crop. Construction of the Buffalo Bill Dam (six miles west of Cody) was necessary to bring water to the near 90,000 acres of dry, northwestern Wyoming.

Early settlers dreamed of implementing the canal and ditch techniques perfected in Europe thousands of years earlier to channel water to the area. In 1910, the 325-foot-heigh dam and its contained Buffalo Bill Reservoir were completed, as well as the rest of the Shoshone Project, which included a system of canals, tunnels, and diversion dams that continue to irrigate more than 93,000 acres of beans, alfalfa, sugar beets, and other crops.

Because of this complex system, farmers and ranchers had to quickly secure their irrigation water rights, and these rights remain important to today’s home and/or land buyers, as well.

Keep in mind that if you are buying property in this area that will require irrigating, there are many legal responsibilities to consider with your water rights. These responsibilities include (and are NOT limited to) digging and constructing drain ditches, sharing water with nearby land owners, and caring for your runoff water.

For more information about water rights and documents, contact your local UW Extension Office or Patrick T. Tyrrell, the Wyoming State Engineer, at seoleg@seo.wyo.gov or (307) 777-6475. The Department of Environmental Quality ((307) 777-7781), your local County Health Departments, and the National Resources Conservation Service (with the USDA) will have information about water quality, and your City or County Planning Office will inform you about any city or county zoning restrictions.

If you are building your home on irrigated land, special consideration of septic system and farm animal placement will need to be made, as well. Your UW Extension Office is always a good resource for expert opinions, and you can check out http://wyo.gov/seo/ for state information on irrigation and Legal Aspects Relating to Irrigation Ditch Rights and Easements.

For more information on Wyoming’s Water Laws, visit http://ces.uwyo.edu and click on publications for a summary of the laws in place.