MC Journal, University of Buffalo, New York; November 2000
by Barbara Butler, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology
The Wind River Valley in Wyoming is known for it’s relatively mild winters and was a favorite over-wintering spot for Shoshone and Arapaho tribes. Wind River describes how, in Wyoming, water rights are awarded to farmers on a seniority basis. Those holding the earliest water rights receive their water first. The holder of the next water right then receives their water and so on until all water needs are satisfied. Unfortunately, this results in the de-watering of the Wind River.
Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes argued successfully in court that their water right dates to the time their reservation was established in 1868, and therefore pre-dates any other water right. The tribes have requested as their water right to maintain an in-stream flow to preserve fish stocks. The video offers convincing arguments from biologists that with prudent water use, it is possible to maintain in-stream flow and satisfy the agricultural needs of other water right holders. When challenged, the State Supreme Court ruled that the reservation was established for the purpose of agriculture and that the tribes could use water only for that purpose. The court allows that the production of food and creation of recreation (by dams) is a beneficial use of water that takes precedence over the maintenance of a fishery on the Wind River.
Wind River does an excellent job of interspersing interviews with tribe members, farmers, lawyers, biologists, authors, a State Supreme Court Justice and the State Engineer to tell both sides of this controversial subject. Wind River is well edited and makes use of some interesting historical footage to show how agriculture has changed the Wind River Valley over time. The sound track includes original music by Barrett Meigs. It is easy to see why Wind River received a merit award in the conservation message category at the International Wildlife Film Festival. The video is thought provoking and will be an excellent resource for teachers. It is highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.