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Managers optimistic for irrigation season

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

    While some areas of Wyoming have received more rainfall than others this spring, one constant across the state is that cool temperatures have delayed the growth of spring crops and that the mountains continue to hold their snow.
    “It’s been slow because of temperature,” says Midvale Irrigation District Manager Lee Arrington of the Riverton area’s irrigation so far this spring.
    “What I’m hearing now is that any new hay ground is taking one and a half acre-feet per acre because the soil moisture’s so bad.” He says Riverton has only received about an inch of moisture in April and May.
    “But what really held people up until recently were cold temperatures,” he adds. The cooler temperatures have also kept snowpack in the mountains so rivers aren’t yet running in the area. “We’ve got two storage reservoirs and we’re using stored water to irrigate because we don’t have the runoff yet.”
    When the runoff does come, Arrington says they’re very hopeful it won’t come too quickly. “If it gets really warm all of a sudden and more snowmelt runoff comes down more quickly than we can take advantage of, it passes us by and gets stored in Boysen Reservoir,” he says. “Ideally we’d like to see a typical extended runoff without a high peak.”
    In the Saratoga area, Joe Glode with the Upper North Platte Water Users Association says it’s looking to be a good year. He says the biggest challenge has been getting work done with winter holding on until just recently. “I think there’s going to be plenty of water and it’s going to last quite a spell,” he says.
    Irrigation water in the area, says Glode, is being turned on. “Some ditches still can’t get water through because of snow.”
    Shoshone Irrigation District Manager Brant Startin says so far irrigation is going really well in the northern Big Horn Basin. “I think almost everyone is done with their first irrigation on beets and barley and now they’re working on bean ground and alfalfa,” he says, acknowledging cooler weather has slowed plant growth in his area as well.
    “From what we see on all the predictions our water is better this year than it has been in the last eight or nine,” says Startin of 2008 moisture levels. Inflows haven’t picked up in his irrigation district either.
    “Buffalo Bill is still dropping every day from outflows, but it’s still up there and in good shape as far as supply,” he says, adding the reservoir is expected to fill. “The supply this year shouldn’t be an issue.”
    Don Britton of the Wheatland Irrigation District says his area is irrigating really hard. “They had quite a bit of moisture to the north and south of us, but we’ve only received two-and-a-half tenths of moisture in the last two or three weeks,” he says of soil moisture levels.
    Wheatland area farmers are not only irrigating sugarbeets and hay, but are also beginning to water row crops. Their irrigation season began May 12.
    “We had the same amount in storage last spring, but the snowpack was lighter,” says Britton. “The hydrologists in the area are comparing this spring to 1999. This is the best year we’ve had since then.”
    Like the other districts, Wheatland is currently irrigating from storage. “Runoff is just starting, and it should be a great runoff this year,” says Britton. “If everything works out we’re all going to look pretty good. The percentages are up higher than we’ve seen them in several years.”
    The Goshen Irrigation District continues as normal with their May “hay run.” District Manager Bill VanderVoort says, “We’re running quite a bit of water, and right now supplies aren’t looking too bad. The Bureau of Reclamation is indicating there’s not going to be an allocation this year.”
    Spring 2007 the District had to forego their hay run because of a lack of water. “We figured we didn’t have enough water to come on early last year, but last September we had a fair amount carried over so we thought we could handle the early run this spring,” says VanderVoort.
    He says Goshen County crops are also behind with cool temperatures. “It looks like our hay is a week or more behind because of the cold weather, which could affect yield, depending on the water and what the temperatures do from here on out,” he says.
    The Goshen Irrigation District will continue with their hay run through May 24, after which they’ll shut down until mid-June.
    Bureau of Reclamation Wyoming Area Manager John Lawson says the irrigators on the North Platte decided to go for a hay run this year because of the moisture Central Wyoming received this spring.
    “During drought periods they’ve held off until mid-June, but this spring they’re taking advantage of the windfall,” says Lawson. “It’s only a windfall of moisture because the reservoirs are still so low and we won’t have recovered too much.”
    Lawson says forecasts predict a million acre-feet of inflow into the North Platte River Basin this spring, which he says is tremendous, compared to the last couple of years. “The million is welcome, but the problem is we estimate we’ll release 950,000 acre-feet during irrigation this season,” he says. “At least we’ll be able to stop the draw on the reservoir and gain 100,000 acre-feet.”
    “Next week, if the temperatures really start to rise, we’ll see more people really starting to irrigate,” says Arrington, referring to the third week of May.
    “We’ve still got our eye on the sky and the thermometer, because if we don’t get any rain on the farm ground we’re going to be in a water-short situation,” says Arrington. “We’re hopeful for normal precipitation throughout the growing season and a normal runoff from the mountains.”
    “We expect a good year for everyone up in this area,” says Startin of the Shoshone Irrigation District’s farmers.
    “I think the season is going to look pretty good, and the growers are optimistic,” says Britton of Wheatland’s expectations. “The snowpack is above normal, so we’re hoping for at least normal in irrigation this year.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at With rain continuing to fall as this edition went to press, watch for a follow-up article in next week’s Roundup.

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