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Abstract

Flood irrigation in the Laramie Basin of southeast Wyoming has created many wetlands that rely directly on irrigation inputs for water. The Laramie Basin is a proposed water source for enhancing Platte River instream flows, to the benefit of endangered cranes, terns, plovers, and sturgeons. Increasing irrigation efficiency, or retiring irrigated lands would transform Laramie Basin agriculture and cause a high fraction of the Basin's wetlands to be lost. This study explores the limitations of traditional water transfer tools when regional instream-flow requirements compete for water with local irrigation-dependent wetlands. A rotating short-term water lease program is proposed. The program would allow Laramie Basin producers to contribute to instream flow without causing permanent wetland damage or loss. Short-term water leasing programs could allow agricultural communities to contribute to regional environmental water needs without sacrificing local, agriculturally-based ecological resources. An estimate of minimum water costs, advantages and disadvantages of short-term water leasing are discussed.

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