Johnson County's Commissioners held a public meeting Tuesday morning to present options to and then gather input from the public on the water rights issues at Lake DeSmet.
Commissioner John Gibbs, who is on the work group along with Sheridan County Commissioner Mike Nickel and LDCC Joint Powers Board Chair Dave Garber, said the committee agreed the priorities in all the discussions were to protect agricultural irrigation rights, to pursue all marketing possibilities, to preserve recreation, continue to protect the 4,620 elevation at the lake, and to continue to reserve municipal water rights in the lake.
With those priorities, the work group came up with two “proposals” for the three entities to consider in their negotiations.
Proposal 1 essentially leaves everything “as is” but changes the Game and Fish allotment of water rights from roughly 12,000 acre feet to 6,100 acre feet.
Proposal 2, called the “buyout,” would keep everything as is, allow the Game and Fish lease, and have one county buyout the other completely.
The Johnson County Commissioners listened to the public comments and had decided to look at what decisions the LDCC and Sheridan County had made before they would make a decision themselves. All three did say at the meeting they were at least “staying open-minded” about signing the lease.
Gibbs said toward the end of the meeting that Sheridan County Commissioner Mike Nickel had texted him, saying Sheridan County had unanimously backed Proposal 2 for Johnson County to buyout Sheridan County's interest in the lake.
Gibbs, Delbert Eitel and Smokey Wildeman decided to hold any decision until after the LDCC's meeting later today when representatives from all three entities are expected to be in attendance.
Proposal # 2, Buyout.
Priorities: Agriculture rights held in 973R for protection; marketing pursued from all aspects; preserve recreation by accepting Game and Fish lease as last proposed; 4620' and below remains same by protecting and enhancing access; municipal reserve held with 2,500 AF per county for future use, sale or exchange.
Conditions of buyout: pay off existing loan to WWDC to include reserves set aside currently ($75,000); $500,000 reimbursement for expenses already incurred; release of future liability.