Wyo Water Association emphasizes partnerships
Sheridan – In today’s ever-changing society, the Wyoming Water Association emphasized “Partnering Strategies for Water Management” in their joint convention with the Upper Missouri Water Association meeting, held Oct. 21-24.
“When you grow up in a state like Wyoming, one of the things that marks our psyche is water,” commented Sheridan Mayor Dave Kimsey. “Without secure water, we do not have a secure future.”
Representatives from water-related organizations in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming joined during the event to share stories of partnerships and success in developing water in the region.
“Our theme – Partnering Strategies for Water Management – is an interesting theme,” said Ron Vore, who presented at the conference after being involved in a successful rehabilitation project. “Cooperation and coordination of efforts and partnering on natural resource issues is important.”
The Whitelaw Riparian Improvement Project, Vore noted, is one such example of a very successful project.
“The goal of the Whitelaw project was not much different from the other pilot projects that attempted to improve riparian conditions,” he continued. “We wanted to stabilize the stream system, enhance water quality and upgrade the fisheries using an advanced livestock management process.”
In the northeast corner of Wyoming in the Bear Lodge Mountains, Vore said, “We found ourselves using a very typical practice of livestock production, as we primarily used season-long grazing, and we used the riparian zones and the stream systems as our water source.”
Vore noted that over time, the practice resulted in problems in riparian areas and created challenges for the livestock industry.
Jennifer Zygmunt of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said, “The problem was that historic grazing practices had led to unstable stream banks, degraded upland and riparian conditions and increased water quality issues.”
She further noted that increased water temperatures, decreased dissolved oxygen levels and increased sediment loading were among the problems present in the stream. In addition, brook trout were present only in very low densities.
“Something had to be done to address the issues and get on handle on the impacts that the livestock were having, not only on private land, but in public lands areas as well,” Vore continued.
At that same time, Vore noted the Wyoming Riparian Association was very active in attempting to resolve the impacts of livestock grazing.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Wyoming Riparian Association and private landowners, including Vore, began working to generate funds to initiate a series of pilot projects focused on riparian improvement.
“We got some money from the 319 program, Wyoming DEQ, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) and various other sources,” says Vore. “There were seven pilot projects that focused on riparian improvement through the implementation of best management practices and changing grazing management strategies.”
At the same time, Vore noted that Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) planning was emerging in the region. In 1992, A CRM team was assembled to address concerns.
“CRM was recognized as a means by which a community could gather their forces and work through a consensus process to get activities on the ground,” he explained. “We got involved in the CRM program and developed a team for our pilot projects.”
The team included private landowners, including Vore, U.S. Forest Service allotment permittees, representatives from the local conservation districts, Forest Service and Wyoming Game and Fish Department employees and citizens from the area.
“We were able to develop goals and strategies and actual implementation activities,” Vore said. “We didn’t do anything very unique or extraordinary, but we accomplished our goals.”
The actions implemented by the CRM team were varied and addressed the degrading riparian area in their cattle grazing land.
“We developed upland water, put in riparian fencing and changed our grazing management,” Vore said. “We were more selective in the timing of our use of those riparian zones and the uplands that were adjacent to it.”
Other implementation activities included intensive monitoring.
Zygmunt noted that new drain systems were developed, channel waters were fenced and pastures were developed by adding stock water tanks and pipelines.
“Most recently, last spring our task force visited and saw improvements,” said Zygmunt.
In improving the resource, Zygmunt and Vore noted that monitoring efforts were an important aspect of the project.
“We needed to do vegetation and water quality monitoring,” Vore said. “With a full suite of water quality and vegetation transect monitoring, we have 20 years of trend data for water quality and riparian plant community trends.”
Utilizing two DEQ water quality monitoring stations, physical, chemical and biological data was collected form 1992 to 2012. The resulting data showed improvement in the resource.
The project, noted Zygmunt, has been largely successful.
“The stream banks are stabilizing, and data showed that water quality has improved,” she said.
Other improvements included reduced sediment loading, increased gravel composition in areas where sediment was formerly deposited and a reduction in water temperature.
There was also an increase in the dissolved oxygen content of the stream
“Most importantly, in my mind, are the biological indicators,” Zygmunt explained. “The lab tells us what macro-invertebrates are present at what densities. These models are telling us, based on the macro-invertebrate communities, that the stream is meeting reference conditions.”
“Willow cover and other vegetation in the riparian area also increased, and stream banks are stabilized,” she said.
Overall, the area has been significantly rehabilitated and has seen improvement from its original state.
The key to accomplishing those goals, added Zygmunt, is the partnerships developed.
“The reason this project was successful was the amount of partnerships that were involved,” she noted. “It was a very cost effective project and is the story of one successful restoration.”
“With the help of our partners, we restored the watershed and reversed the degradation before it was listed as impaired,” Zygmunt continued. “This is the first success story of its type in Wyoming and in EPA’s Region Eight. It is something we are very proud of.”