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UW to Host Symposium on Historic Big Horn River Adjudication


August 19, 2014 — A lengthy, high-profile and often contentious case involving the adjudication of water rights in Wyoming’s Wind-Big Horn River system is the subject of a Sept. 10-12 symposium in Riverton sponsored by the University of Wyoming.

“Wyoming’s Big Horn General Stream Adjudication, 1977-2014,” hosted by the UW College of Law with support from more than a dozen other campus units, will take place at the Wind River Hotel and Casino. The event is free and open to the public, although registration is required.

For detailed information and to register, go online to www.uwyo.edu/law/events/big%20horn%20symposium/index.html.

The Wyoming State Legislature in 1977 initiated the Big Horn River adjudication in response to an assertion of water rights by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. It has involved a review of water claims held by more than 20,000 parties in the Wind River and Big Horn River basins. After 37 years, the adjudication is expected to conclude early this fall with a final decree entered by the state District Court.

The proceeding has prompted two major rulings by the Wyoming Supreme Court, as well as one closely watched decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, all involving water rights held by the two tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The adjudication is considered a landmark in the fields of Western water law and American Indian law.

“The conclusion of this adjudication marks a historical milestone within the state of Wyoming and also is significant across the West as a region,” says College of Law Professor Jason Robison. “It addressed the competing interests of federal, state and tribal sovereigns, and will play an important role in the future reconciliation of these interests. The symposium is inclusive, interdisciplinary and intended to do justice to this landmark.”

Among those scheduled to participate in the symposium are past and current federal, state and tribal officials who have been involved in the adjudication. Opening keynoters include UW law alumnus Jennifer Gimbel, deputy commissioner for external an intergovernmental affairs with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; UW engineering alumnus Pat Tyrrell, Wyoming state engineer; and UW history alumnus John Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone tribe. Retired state District Judge Gary Hartman, also a UW law alumnus who presided over the adjudication for more than two decades, is scheduled to give the closing address.

The symposium agenda includes several panel discussions and presentations on relevant topics, including the history of the adjudication; the adjudication’s place within the broader pattern of general stream adjudications that have occurred across the American West over the past 40 years; and future challenges and opportunities the adjudication poses in Wyoming. A narrated field trip to the Ray Canal system in and around the Wind River Indian Reservation also is planned.

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