Project aims to reduce pollutants
With the high levels of bacteria in the watershed of the Big Horn River, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with Respec Consulting and Services, calculated the total maximum daily load (TMDL) for the river and provided residents with some solutions to reduce bacterial contamination
“A TMDL is supposed to be used to help restore water quality limited streams where current technology-based measures aren’t stringent enough to protect the water quality,” explained Wyoming DEQ TMDL Coordinator Kevin Hyatt.
After holding several public meetings and compiling research, Hyatt and Project Manager at Respec Consulting and Services Jared Oswald hosted meetings on July 11-12 to reveal their findings.
Hyatt noted that section 303d of the Clean Water Act (CWA) provides for TMDLs, saying, “When permitted limits aren’t stringent enough that they are still causing water quality impairments, a TMDL is used to help further clarify how those permitted sources are allowed to discharge.”
Hyatt also noted that TMDLs are also used to help control nonpoint source pollution, or pollution washed off the land and directed into a stream.
“Truly, it is really designed to help identify what is causing the impairment to the stream and help develop mitigation measures or management actions to help reduce the pollution to bring the stream back into compliance,” he continued. “It is really the only control method that the CWA prescribes to control nonpoint source pollution.”
In the Big Horn River drainage, fecal coliforms and E. coli are polluting water.
Preserving beneficial use
Hyatt noted that the goal of the TMDL project is to preserve the beneficial use of the affected waters.
“For example, in the Big Horn Basin, recreation in some areas is being impaired due to fecal coliform, or E. coli, and there are multiple sources,” he explained. “People in those communities rely on tourism through fishing, for example. If tourists hear the stream is impaired for bacteria, that could hurt the industry.”
There are a number of other potential impacts of poor water quality and levels of bacteria that are too high, mentioned Hyatt.
“We are trying to ensure the uses of the waters are protected for everybody,” he adds.
Wyoming DEQ, Respec and conservation districts in the affected area held two public meetings in February to gather information from the public.
“The last set of public meetings was really to try to get more information about specific land uses and activities that were occurring,” said Hyatt, who added that they looked at factors like how long livestock inhabited specific areas of watershed.
By defining when and where livestock are moved, Hyatt said that DEQ received insight from the public on what occurs in each of the drainage basins.
“We got some additional insight on potential areas where wildlife could be contributing to the problem,” he mentioned.
The public meetings also served to explain the models that would be used to the public, and Hyatt said, “We wanted to show the folks that modeling we were using actually fit well with flow data that we have, and that we do have calibrations lined up with real data.”
In validating the data, modeled predictions are more accurate.
At this set of public meetings, results showed what the stream can handle, as well as areas that are over limits and what is causing the increase in bacteria.
Respec also developed an implementation plan. The implementation plan is designed to complement the watershed plans developed in conservation districts. Oswald noted that the information provided at this meeting was still in its draft form, and DEQ may provide some revisions on a completion of their review.
“The conservation districts already have watershed plans written, which essentially have management actions to help reduce pollution, so we try to help what they have already done by refining those and adding some additional suggestions,” Hyatt said. “We take that report to the community to try to get them to start implementing those actions.”
Hyatt emphasized that the suggestions for nonpoint source pollution control are voluntary actions designed to improve the watershed.
“The next step is to try to get the community involved in implementing the things we are suggesting,” said Hyatt. “If we can get a lot of people to do a little bit, it will hopefully add up to enough to reach the levels we need.”
He also mentioned that there is no enforcement or penalty, but if a stream continues to be polluted, DEQ takes additional steps to look at why actions are being implemented or why they aren’t working.
“We are seeing bacteria from rangeland influence and some cropland influence,” explained Oswald. “This is still a draft that the DEQ is reviewing.”
Oswald also noted that the information is generalized due to the size of the watershed.
“There is some bacteria getting washed off of cropland that is getting irrigated,” he added. “Irrigation efficiency can help solve this. If we can reduce the amount of water that returns to the stream, for example, by converting from flood to sprinkler irrigation, we will see some reduction.”
Rangeland influences also result in some bacteria in the river, and Oswald suggested use of off-stream water supplies and rotational grazing to help alleviate that source.
“We are not looking at the level of what species is causing this, we are just looking at land use from which it comes,” Oswald mentioned, noting that neither livestock nor wildlife can specifically be targeted.
“This has been a fun process, and we are just about finished,” Oswald said. “We have submitted the draft to the DEQ, and the local steering committee is also reviewing the document.”
For more information on the Big Horn River TMDL, visit deq.state.wy.us and search “Big Horn TDML.” Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TMDL efforts continue in the Big Horn Basin
Another total maximum daily load (TMDL) project will be done on the Shoshone River, as a result of several children developing gastrointestinal illnesses after swimming n the river.
“We investigated further and identified that the river is impaired with E. coli,” said Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality TMDL Coordinator Kevin Hyatt. “We are starting a TMDL up there as well.”