High-Tech H20Written by Jennifer Womack
State Engineer’s Office working to provide more data real time
Cheyenne – Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to protecting Wyoming’s water.
Technology isn’t new to the administrators of the state’s water, but leaders say it’s time to have more real-time data available in one centralized database. Technological infrastructure in the field in some instances needs an update. In other areas, it’s time to make the swap to a higher tech approach.
“Historically,” says Deputy State Engineer Harry Labonde, “we had to drive out to the stream gages, take a reading and take it back to the office. That was the basis for water regulation and water decisions.” Over the past 20 years, in an effort spearheaded by the U.S. Geological Survey, Labonde says more data has become available on a shorter turnaround time.
What hasn’t happened, however, is creation of a centralized database along with updating and expanding the state’s remote water measuring capabilities. Labonde says during the 2008 legislative session his agency requested $1.6 million to meet those needs. Leaving the session with around a million to devote to the project, water managers are improving and expanding the state’s ability to gather water data quickly and remotely at existing gage sites. Next session, he says, the agency will be back to request another half million for new sites and gages.
With 45 people making up their field staff across the state, Loren Smith of the State Engineer’s Office (SEO) says over the summer, hydrographers and gage readers will travel numerous miles taking thousands of readings. If they’re able to do that work remotely, they can turn their attention to other areas where work is needed.
“We’re currently operating 176 continuous recording stream gages statewide and 76 continuous recording canal gages,” says Smith. “Of those 252 sights, 65 are transmitting data on someone else’s network providing real-time data.” With readings taken every 15 minutes, Smith says the data is generally transmitted hourly.
“When we need that data,” says Smith of the daily accounting processes that take place at the SEO, “we’ve got to go to five or six different places to gather the data.” Once the upgrades are complete, all of the data will come into one centralized location that can be used by the SEO and other water management entities around the state in what Smith calls “one stop shopping.”
Smith says the agency request included $72,000 for a new stream record reduction software package to replace the current DOS-based program. “The package we’re considering is supported by the USGS and is becoming the industry standard.”
Of the high-tech equipment already in use around the state, Smith says results have been good. “We did a project three years ago on the Big Horn River below Boysen Reservoir with 10 sights in that area,” he says. It’s also been used on the Shoshone River where Smith says the line-of-sight radio technology being used to transfer the data is becoming outdated. “It’s transmitted to the Shoshone Irrigation District and to get it you have to call their office.”
“When we set up this budget to get this new data,” commented Representative Doug Samuelson, chairman of the House Ag Committee at a recent meeting in Saratoga, “we knew we were going to spend at least the rest of our lives in lawsuits over water.”
Smith says benefits of the added technology reach far beyond the improved ability to defend the state’s water uses in court if needed. On the Big Horn he says, “Canal managers used to run their canal every day and send 3X5 cards to Riverton with the information on it at the end of the week.” When the data was processed the following week, he says it was a guessing game as to how much water there truly was at any point in time and accounting was done using numbers a week old. “Now we’re able to know how much water there is and where it is at any time.”
It’s also helped in the area of conservation. “We don’t spill extra water over the dam at Worland anymore,” Smith explains. “Additional benefits are water delivery and timing. We can tell a canal manager when he needs to pick up water we release from the reservoir. We can also track storm events. Following a rain event we can track the water coming downriver and let customers know so they can utilize the rain spike and not waste water.” On smaller streams, Smith says the technology has also helped prevent water theft.
“A lot of canal districts don’t want to utilize their limited storage early in the year,” says Smith. “With this system they can watch and keep from utilizing storage to ensure they have water for their crops later on. To them it’s significant savings.”
Smith tells of a situation in Sheridan County where a gage helped emergency responders during a potential flood event. They couldn’t get people into the area to read gages, but were able to retrieve the information remotely. “You can get flood information regardless of conditions,” says Smith.
Smith sees the program, which also allows irrigation districts to access information during their evening meetings, to continue expanding. “We’re finding the more of this information we put out the hungrier people are getting for it.”