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Water

At Capacity, North Platte River system reaches 2.8 million acre-feet

People and pelicans alike flocked to Pathfinder Dam in mid-June to view water running over the spillway and into Fremont Canyon – an event not seen since 1984.
More water flowed into Seminoe Reservoir in the first 15 days of June than ever before, and releases from Gray Reef Reservoir on June 16 reached 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). According to the Bureau of Reclamation, river flows into the North Platte River are normally 2,000 to 2,600 cfs this time of year.
Wyoming’s North Platte reservoir system, which holds 2.8 million cubic feet of water, has filled to capacity this spring.
The Upper North Platte River drainage in southern Wyoming and the Sweetwater drainage from the southeast side of the Wind River Range have provided much of the water. Remaining snowpack levels in those areas combined with early June rainstorms and warm temperatures created high runoff.
“Last week it was beyond frightening,” says Popo Agie Conservation District Executive Director Jeri Trebelcock of the days before the severe floods began in Fremont County. “They were talking about snowfall of Biblical proportions, and it was hard for anyone to wrap their arms around.”
Ron Cunningham of the Fremont County Cooperative Extension Service says most livestock has been moved to summer range and hasn’t been involved in the flooding, but he says crop production is the biggest concern in the area, as the cool, wet temperatures have stunted growth.
“There have been some real challenges in the area, and some operators have lost bridges that will affect how they get to their places, and there’s discussion of temporary bridges from the Army Corps of Engineers, and that would help,” says Cunningham.
He says nobody thought flooding would start so early with 70-degree temperatures, “But the snow we got in May had not set up like winter snow, so it started to come off at a lot lower temperatures,” he says.
Cunningham says 140 Fremont County homes have been flooded or are at high risk of flooding, and that more moisture is forecasted.
As a part of the recovery effort and water quality monitoring, the Popo Agie Conservation District has coordinated a countywide rural well water testing program.
“We’re concerned about wells being inundated with the flood, and not only overland flows but also compromised septic systems,” says Trebelcock.
Drop off sites will be set up June 21 through 25. “Folks can come to the Conservation District offices to pick up a kit to take home and collect well water,” explains Trebelcock.
The locations include the Popo Agie Conservation District in Lander, the Crowheat Conservation District in Dubois, the Lower Wind River Conservation District in Riverton and the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission on the Reservation at Building 10, Washakie Street in Fort Washakie.
“Folks need to collect their samples and have them back to any one of the sites by noon June 21 through 25,” says Trebelcock. “They will be taken to the lab in Riverton for analysis, and the results will be mailed directly to the landowner.”
The tests detect the presence or absence of total coliform bacteria, and if it’s found to be present a second test will be run for E. coli.
“It’s a countywide effort, and the Office of Homeland Security will pay for it. It’s a free test,” she notes.
In addition to the integrity of rural wells in the county, Trebelcock says a major concern from the flooding is ag infrastructure, including irrigation systems.
“Here on the Popo Agie we had the Cemetary Headwall – a major lateral in Lander – fail, and not only did it fail, but it provided the opportunity for the middle fork of the Popo Agie to go through that headwall,” she says.
The conservation district is working through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to implement Emergency Watershed Protection, or EWP.
“With that partnership we’ve had engineers on the ground helping people,” says Trebelcock. “We have four EWP contracts currently. One is for the Cemetery Headwall, plus we’ve shored up two properties to keep those homes from going down the river and another project is immediately above a trailer court to keep the trailers in place.”
“It’s been an amazing program, and it’s given the opportunity for funding and to have the engineers on the ground telling folks what to do,” she adds.
“We know it will be crunch time when the water recedes,” says Trebelcock. “We have headgates high and dry, and other headgates where the channel has left them, and other headgates have toppled over. Fields have had overland flows, and we’ve got fences down and private bridges are out. We’re trying to keep that ag infrastructure in the forefront as we talk to people with homeland security, and the county commissioners are already aware of what’s happened.”
“We’re trying to keep folks in the loop, so they know it’s not just a town problem, but a countywide problem and it will affect ag folks,” she says. “We’re looking for programs and funding to help the ag community put these things back together.”
So far Trebelcock says the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts has toured the area, as well as Wyoming NRCS Director Xavier Montoya and Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Jason Fearneyhough.
“We have a lot of ears, we just hope they can help us put this back together,” says Trebelcock.
Moving forward, Trebelcock says the Conservation District will look for funding opportunities everywhere to build the biggest pot of recovery money that they can.