By Tristan Ahtone
Riverton, WY – Senate Indian Affairs Co-Chair and Wyoming Senator John Barrasso held hearings on the Wind River Reservation this afternoon/ Wednesday concerning issues arising from the operation and maintenance of the Wind River Irrigation System.
The Wind River irrigation system was built nearly 100 years ago and construction on the system ceased in 1925. Since then, the Wind River Tribes, tribal members and non-tribal members have paid the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the operation and maintenance of the system to the tune of 20-dollars an acre.
Shoshone Business Councilman Orville St. Clair says that water users have been concerned that their money wasn't being used to upgrade irrigation.
"Their concern was that the money being collected by the BIA wasn't going back into the system to make it better, it was just paying salaries and wages."
Senator Barrasso says the irrigation system is outdated, and that the B-I-A is too backed up and overburdened to be able upgrade the system with only user fees to fund it.
"The amount of wear and tear is such that it's going to take more of a commitment from the BIA to get this up to date and up to speed and that's going to need some additional money than just the fees that they're getting from the water users."
Barrasso says he hopes lawmakers in Washington will see how rules and regulations are affecting Wyomingites and St. Clair estimates that getting the irrigation system up to par with the rest of the country could be around 100-million dollars.