About the Ground Water Division
The 1947 legislature enacted the State's first groundwater laws. Although the legislation was not extensive, it did for the first time, require the owners of any groundwater wells drilled in the state prior to April 1, 1947 to register their wells by a "Statement of Claim" with the office of the State Engineer. It also required that any new well proposed to be drilled after that date (except those for stock or domestic uses) must also be registered, and thus began the application of the prior appropriation system to groundwater use in Wyoming. Well filings made under a statement of claim could receive their priority based on the claimed date of completion of the well, going back as far in time as could be justified, while registrations of wells after April 1, 1947 would receive a priority as of the date their new filing was made with the State Engineer. A process for adjudication of wells was also included in the legislation.
As far back as 1952, the State Engineer had reported that there was interest in strengthening the 1947 groundwater laws, but It wasn't until 1957 that the legislature responded by enacting a much more comprehensive code for handling underground water. Those laws provided that wells for domestic and stock uses would have preferred rights over other groundwater uses even though they were still exempt from filing requirements, and that all other wells would need to be permitted by the State Engineer before construction could commence. The appointment of a Division Advisory Committee on groundwater matters was required for each of the four historic water divisions, and the State Engineer was directed to establish aquifer districts and sub districts within those water divisions. In districts of sub-districts where concerns for the condition of an aquifer existed, the laws provided the designation of "critical areas" and the election of an advisory board to manage the concerns of that area.
The statute further clarified that an underground water right does not include the right to have the water level in any well maintained at any elevation above that required for maximum beneficial use, and established a penalty for drilling without an approved permit. Additionally, the new law specified that groundwater rights were subject to the abandonment statutes the same as surface water rights, and that a change in location of a well could similarly be accomplished by petition to the Board of Control. The State Engineer was given the authority to promulgate rules regarding minimum well construction standard upon advice and consent of the Board of Control, and to order the cessation of the flow of water from any well when necessary.
In continuing to refine the 1957 groundwater laws and address problems that had arisen, the 1969 legislature expanded the groundwater code substantially. Included was a provision that as of May 24, 1969, all groundwater wells, even previously exempted stock and domestic wells, required a permit from the State Engineer before drilling could be commenced. Domestic and stock water wells still had a preferred right over wells for other purposes, with the term "domestic" being well-described and conditioned. Subsequent to that legislation, any unregistered well was not considered to have a valid water right and could not expect to receive protection under the law (Cooper, 2004).