WWDO, conservation district finalize Medicine Bow Watershed StudyWritten by Saige Albert
Medicine Bow – The Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) began conducting watershed studies across the state of Wyoming, and most recently, a draft of the Medicine Bow Watershed Study was out for public review.
Meetings were held in Medicine Bow with the Medicine Bow Conservation District and McFadden with the Rock Creek Water Users Association on Feb. 9 to outline the results of the study, which started in June 2014, and received final comments on the draft report.
“This watershed study is important to help us analyze and evaluate the water resources within our watershed,” said Joan McGraw, Medicine Bow Conservation District manager. “There is a lot that goes into completing a watershed study.”
Inside the studies
Peter Gill, WWDO river basin planning project manager, explained, “These watershed studies have two main components.”
First, the studies look to characterize the watershed.
“We want to get an idea of where the water is, where it is being used, where the wildlife and fish are and if there are geomorphic issues or other concerns,” he continued. “We have to describe the watershed so we can get an idea of where potential enhancement can occur or if there are areas that need rehabilitation.”
McGraw noted that information was gathered by a water and natural resource consultant.
“They gather information, including stream data, geology, geomorphology, rangeland health – both vegetation and soils data, and hydrology information; analyze existing infrastructures; and conduct interviews with landowners and land managers. They provide us with background conceptual data of our watershed and highlight areas of need, she said”
In the second part of the watershed studies, Gill says they strive to understand water supply needs within the watersheds by meeting with waters users and landowners.
“We meet with landowners who think they may have a water project on their property we can help fund, for example,” he explained.
McGraw added, “Through the study, we can identify projects to help us improve the watershed function by creating proper management plans. Management plans could include projects such as creating or improving water conveyance and infrastructure for irrigation, riparian health and stream channel stability or may include water development or water storage for livestock and wildlife.”
McGraw also noted that the Medicine Bow Conservation District is the local sponsor for the study, commenting, “We will assist the landowners in implementing these projects, providing technical assistance and funding sources to help get the projects completed.”
Over 20 landowners and 50 projects have been identified that would be eligible for funding through WWDO at the completion of the watershed study.
“There are different types of projects, including irrigation systems, restoring diversions or developing new irrigation,” Gill said. “We also have livestock watering projects on our list.”
He continued, “A lot of these projects develop upland water sources. We pay to put in wells and stock tanks, as well as stock water reservoirs, through our small water projects funding.”
The Feb. 9 meetings marked the last opportunity for comments on the study draft, which was released in November.
“The Boards of both organizations met, and we’ve gone through these drafts,” Gill said. “After we get final comments, we will finalize the study.”
After the study is finalized, anyone within the watershed with a small water project becomes eligible to receive funding for the project through WWDO.
“Until a watershed study is completed, landowners cannot get funding for small water projects if they are on private land,” he added. “We conduct these watershed studies to help provide funding for private projects.”
Gill notes that all WWDO-funded projects occur through public sponsors, with the exception of small water projects, and the watershed studies serve to understand where projects can serve a public benefit.
“By funding private, individual projects on private lands – for example putting in a stock tank or reservoir, we might keep livestock out of riparian areas,” he said as an example. “Public benefits are realized through better riparian areas, healthier streams and improved wildlife habitat.”
Looking into the next steps, McGraw comments, “Now that our study is complete we will be working on implementing small water projects. Ultimately, we would like to do a Level II and Level III study and hopefully implement reach-scale stream projects.”