At the mouth of Shoshone Canyon just west of Cody, a large pipe emerges from the base of Cedar Mountain, crosses under the highway, then spans through mid-air to the north bank of the Shoshone River.
This is the Heart Mountain Canal, and for nine years, Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) was manager of the 32,000-acre irrigation district it served. He was charged with overseeing a 25-mile stretch of irrigation infrastructure built in the late 1940s, which serves land stretching from Cody to Ralston on the highway to Powell.
Laursen, a 1983 University of Wyoming agriculture business graduate, got into the Heart Mountain position after nearly 25 years as a beet farmer a few miles north of Powell. Those two careers give him a deep appreciation for how irrigation water makes his part of the state a green agricultural area, rather than the high desert it would be naturally.
“Water is so important to us,” he said. “With the rain we get — which we don’t get — we’ve got to make sure we can save the water before it gets out of the state, and use it before it leaves us.”
Laursen left the Heart Mountain Irrigation District a year ago, a move that helps him sleep better at night. “Every time it rained I had to be up all night, because I was worried the canal was going to overflow and wash out,” he said. “Now I don’t even have to have my phone on.”
Laursen now works in a seasonal position as a hydrographer with the state engineer’s office. He tracks the water flowing into canals around Powell using his computer, which receives real-time satellite data from gauging stations.
He also works with the Wyoming Water Association, the Upper Missouri River Association, and on the House Agriculture and Travel, Recreation, and Tourism committees.
Laursen was inspired to run for state office after serving on a variety of local boards, including the volunteer fire departments, where he wrote grant applications to the State Loan and Investments Board. He followed in the steps of his father-in-law, Rep. Denny Smith (R-Powell), who served on the Joint Appropriations Committee until his death in 1999. In part, Laursen ran because he disagreed with his opponent Rep. Dave Blevin’s support of same-sex marriage, and views on gun rights.
As a freshman lawmaker, Laursen said he became the joke of the House for speaking at length on a topic of personal interest: dry bean research. “It was really dry, and I talked way too long, and it was one of the first ones I talked about, so I get harassed: ‘Oh boy it’s Laursen up there going to talk about the dry bean bill again.’ It was pretty funny.”
In the 2015 session Laursen sponsored a bill outlining the process for selecting delegates for a constitutional convention of states. Though the bill didn’t pass because the House and Senate didn’t agree on it, Laursen says it’s an important issue because it could be used to draft a national balanced-budget amendment.
“We’ve got to rein in the federal government to quit spending that much money,” he said. “We are at $18 trillion now for debt, that’s $60,000 per person. We’ve got to do something here real quick.”
On the travel committee, Laursen is opposed to bike paths because he is not sure where the money would come from to build them. He also opposed a bill to make cars use a three-foot minimum passing distance for bikers on public roads. Laursen said his son, an avid skier and climber pursuing a mechanical engineering PhD in Laramie, wasn’t happy with him on that vote.
In the next session, Laursen is toying with the idea of bringing a bill to end daylight saving time. “It’s just baloney,” he said. “Why are we putting up with it? Nobody likes it.”