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Irrigation districts rejoice over May precipitation

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

    Heavy precipitation over the last week has many Wyoming agriculturists back in good spirits.
    “The name of the game up here is people turning their water off,” Lee Arrington, Midvale Irrigation District Manager, says of Riverton-area producers.
    Arrington says they have received four to six inches of rain and the district is leaving water in the Wind River that they would normally be diverting for use. Some Riverton-area producers who were watering alfalfa before the storm kept the water flowing to keep soil moisture uniform but most producers turned the water off.
    Arrington says many of his producers gladly welcomed the rain because the area was so dry. The early rain came quickly and some ran off but he says the rest came slowly and soaked in, which should help soil moisture immensely.
    There is still significant snow pack in the area and Arrington says he expects to see inflows to the Wind River shoot up as the temperatures increase. He says he doesn’t expect needing to pull from Bull Lake storage through the end of June, depending on snowmelt.
    Shoshone Irrigation District Manager Bryant Startin says the Big Horn Basin is also pleased with the rain.
    “It’s going to help the overall situation with water, especially in Buffalo Bill Reservoir,” he says.
    Startin says most of his district’s water users were done with their first irrigation and the precipitation gave them extra moisture for the crop ground. The precipitation will probably slow irrigation water usage until the weather warms up again, Startin says.
    The Big Horn Basin is still at 100 percent snow pack or better, Startin says, and the precipitation has helped the water supply even more. Startin also says Buffalo Bill Reservoir is about 24 feet from capacity and has risen eight feet since May 15. Before the weather cooled down, the reservoir was rising between one and one and a half feet each day and Startin says he expects a temperature rise to create a similar pattern.
    The Wheatland Irrigation District saw some of the most moisture in the state and Manger Don Britton says the rain will improve storage but also caused a lot of flooding. The district shut its system down last Thursday night when heavy precipitation inundated the area and Britton says it’s unclear when producers will need irrigation water again.
    Britton says the spring storm also added to the snow pack levels in the Laramie Mountains, where the district’s draws from. He says snow pack had increased between five and 19 percent since May 19.
    Joe Glode with the Upper North Platte Water Users Association says the Saratoga area didn’t receive as much precipitation as some other parts of the state but did get “a pretty good shot of moisture.” Glode says the snow pack is around 130 percent of average and now they just need it to melt out of the mountains.
    “Everything looks really good, we just need it to warm up and be summer,” he says.
    The Upper North Platte Water Users Association struggled early on with getting snow out of ditches but irrigation is now in full swing. Glode says this year is looking good compared to some of the past few years.
    The overarching theme shows that producers and irrigation districts alike are grateful for the moisture and Arrington summed it up by saying, “As far as the value of the rain, it’s the million dollar kind.”
    Liz LeSatz is the Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be e-mailed at

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