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Conserving washakie county, Conservation District continues efforts

Worland – Since 1990, the Washakie County Conservation District (WCCD) has worked tirelessly to conserve the county’s precious resources, ranging from water to soil to land concerns.

“Everything we do is to prompt volunteer best management practices in Washakie County,” says WCCD Director Tori Dietz.  “We support the natural resource conservation efforts in the county.”

Establishment

In 1993, Washakie County citizens passed the initial one-half mill levy to support the conservation district during a special election. 

“Passing a mill levy,” continues Tori, “is challenging because it is difficult for conservation districts to show what they can accomplish without the money to do so.”

“Once the tax passed, we were then required to ask the voters to pass it at the next general election, and they did with a greater majority in 1994,” she says.

During the time before the mill levy was passed, WCCD started two projects that helped to prove to the community that WCCD was effective. 

Initial projects

“One of our projects was a recycling center,” says Tori. “We didn’t have anyone who was privately doing recycling, so we worked with Renew out of Sheridan to start a recycling center.”

With grant funding from the Wyoming Recycling Association, the project instantly gained support from the Worland community.

Their second project was a furrow mulch project, funded by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. 

“We worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Joliet, Mont., where they owned a furrow mulch machine that we were able to lease,” Tori explains. “The idea was that the machine was fed barley straw, then pressed into the furrow of a field. The straw then filtered the irrigation water, so it was clean when it left the field, while also reducing erosion.”

While the project worked, Tori notes that the advent of polyacrylamide accomplished the same goals in a less labor-intensive manner.

“I really attribute the initial passing of the mill levy to those two projects, particularly the recycling project,” she adds.

Tori became a full-time employee in 1993 and says, “After our mill levy passed, we were able to start doing more projects, and more people became aware of who we were and what our purpose is.”

Bacteria projects

Currently, Tori notes that WCCD continues to work on helping landowners reduce the bacterial contributions to streams in Washakie County.

“We conducted water quality monitoring in 2006-08 to simply gather baseline water quality data, so we would know if the best management practices completed were working.  Unfortunately, we also verified that our streams were impaired for E. coli, just as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had listed,” she says. 

“Last year, DEQ completed a total maximum daily load (TMDL) on the Big Horn River. Since the WCCD’s Big Horn River Watershed Plan was due for renewal, a steering committee was formed to develop goals and actions that could address what the TMDL had identified as being a culprit for bacteria impairments,” says Tori.

Project focus

“Our steering committee, which consists of local landowners and agency folks, decided to focus on a smaller watershed scale than the whole county,” Tori notes. “They felt that since Sage Creek and Slick Creek were in the same watershed, both had similar land uses and flowed through the town, this would be a workable area to possibly show improvements to the water sooner than with larger areas such as Fifteen Mile Creek.”

This smaller watershed focus will allow WCCD to be more effective as implementation projects won’t be spread out over the whole county and the thought is that it will be easier to identify water quality improvements.  

Since WCCD and the steering committee began the Sage Creek-Slick Creek Watershed Plan development, they have received three grants – NRCS National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) grant, Wyoming Department of Agriculture Watershed Implementation grant and DEQ 319 grant, also a watershed effort. 

All of the grants address and assist with implementing best management practices (BMPs), which means they are for natural resource related improvement projects implemented by landowners.  

“The NWQI was looking for a local working group who identified a smaller watershed that they could spend the next two years implementing projects to help reduce bacteria,” says Tori. “WCCD ended up being approved for 11 pivots in this watershed, which will bring in over $600,000 into this watershed.”

“This is our second year for NWQI funding where there will be approximately $500,000 to implement more projects, again in this same watershed,” she says. “Our local NRCS office administers this program and is receiving applications right now.”

Implementation

WCCD has worked to focus on watershed implementation projects and has included a wide array of constituents and projects.

“We’ve included cropland, rangeland, small acreage and urban projects,” says Tori.

A youth education program, which is conducted by Susan Carrell, WCCD’s outdoor education specialist, enables WCCD to visit schools and teach students about natural resources. 

Becky Davis, WCCD program assistant, assists with all aspects of WCCD programs, such as the seedling tree program, advertising, recycling, grant writing and others. 

“We recently submitted a grant application for a Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) program grant,” says Becky. “We anticipate using those funds, if approved, to do a study of test plots to test which plants might do best in the Gooseberry Creek watershed where invasive species have been removed.”

Projects to remove salt cedar and Russian olive were very successful, but Davis notes that re-establishment of desirable plants has been a challenge.

Identity crisis

While WCCD is doing positive work within Washakie County, Tori notes that they still have an identity crisis.

“We are trying to help people to understand who we are and what we do,” she explains. “The public sometimes has trouble differentiating us from the federal agencies.”

They have recently launched a public education campaign to help with understanding who WCCD is and what a conservation district does by utilizing social media and local news avenues. 

“We have strong partnerships in Washakie County and around the state,” says Tori. “By working with the Northern Wyoming Daily News, University of Wyoming Extension, City of Worland, Washakie County Commissioners, our local legislators and many others, we are able to accomplish great things.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at saige@wylr.net.


SIDEBAR:
Education efforts

To continue to educate Washakie County residents, youth in particular, Washakie County Conservation District (WCCD) leases a three-acre piece of land for their outdoor classroom.

“Landis Benson, a previous board member of WCCD, has leased this piece of land to WCCD for an outdoor classroom since the late 1980s,” Tori Dietz, WCCD director, says. “There is a pond, a well, log benches, a bat house, nesting boxes, a windmill, xeric plots, trees and grass plots out there.”

The outdoor classroom provides a hands-on venue for students to experience natural resource conservation efforts first hand.