Coping with E. coli: A New Approach

The great and sovereign State of Wyoming has adopted a new approach to managing the risk of E. coli contamination of its waters. Just when you think Alaska has safely secured the prize for stupid laws, along comes a sister western state to seize the trophy.

Wyoming has lots of cows. Cows poop. Cow poop contains E. coli. Some strains of E. coli are very dangerous. If you were to drink water contaminated by those very dangerous strains of E. coli you would become very, very sick indeed. The more virulent strains can cause gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and neonatal meningitis. In rarer cases, virulent strains are also responsible for hemolytic-uremic syndrome, peritonitis, mastitis, septicemia, and Gram-negative pneumoniia.

So modern health science uses the presence of any E. coli as a kind of litmus test for water quality.

E. Coli WARNING: This Photo Banned in the State of Wyoming

E. Coli  WARNING: This Photo Banned in the State of Wyoming

Except, apparently, in the sovereign State of Wyoming. Which this week adopted a statute making it criminal trespass to enter onto open land to collect “resource data.” Specifically,

Trespassing to unlawfully collect resource data and unlawfully collecting resource data are punishable as follows:

(i) By imprisonment for not more than one (1) year, a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00), or both;

(ii) By imprisonment for not less than ten (10) days nor more than one (1) year, a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00), or both, if the person has previously been convicted of trespassing to unlawfully collect resource data or unlawfully collecting resource data.

The Wyoming Legislature has defined some terms:

“Collect” means to take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government

“Open land” means land outside the exterior boundaries of any incorporated city, town, subdivision

“Resource data” means data relating to land or land use, including but not limited to data regarding agriculture, minerals, geology, history, cultural artifacts, archeology, air, water, soil, conservation, habitat, vegetation or animal species.

It looks to WC that Wyoming has violated its own state constitution as to free speech and the right to petition the government;1 it also appears to have some pretty egregious First Amendment issues, too.

But it’s not all bad: miners can no longer develop mining claims; that’s pretty clearly banned. Ditto for oil and natural gas explorations. But as helpful as those benefits are, it remains an egregiously stupid, egregiously unconstitutional bit of law. As we speak, WC has no doubt folks like the National Resource Defense Council are queuing up to challenge the silly business. Still, it would be a good idea not to mention this idea to the Alaska Legislature.

The most alarming aspect of the stupid business is the Ostrich Effect. The folks in Wyoming have decided to address their problems by pretending they don’t exist. It’s the Three Monkeys School of Science. The operating premise is that if we don’t look it doesn’t exist. What could possibly go wrong?

Three Wise Monkeys, Brass Casting

Three Wise Monkeys, Brass Casting


  1. Wyoming Constitution, Article I, Sections 20 and 21.