Middle North Platte Watershed study progresses, sees input from landowners in next steps
Casper – On Feb. 28, Natrona County residents heard updates on the Middle North Platte Watershed Study, which aims to provide additional opportunities for landowners and land managers to improve the watershed.
“In September of 2011, Natrona County Conservation District (NCCD) requested that the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) recommend funding for a Level I Watershed Study.” commented NCCD Manager Lisa Ogden. “We requested it to give us an opportunity to look at all of the data related to our watershed in one comprehensive document.”
The Middle North Platte Watershed covers approximately 2,300 square miles of land in central Wyoming, primarily Natrona County. The area also extends into Converse and Carbon Counties, as well.
Ogden noted that the study will encompass a huge amount of data, including the hydrology, geology, land ownership and opportunities for water quality, water quantity and rangeland improvements, among other aspects.
“This project will help us to address our watershed’s problems and will open us options for funding opportunities to do these projects,” added Ogden.
Conducting a study
“A lot of research has already taken place,” said Ogden, noting that RESPEC Consulting and Anderson Consulting Engineers are working for the WWDC to conduct the analysis.
Justin Krajewski, watershed scientist and project manager with RESPEC, noted that they have been collecting background information for the project.
“We spent quite a bit of time collecting information from numerous sources, including local, state and federal agencies and public databases,” explained Krajewski. “We have also collected electronic copies of any past or current studies and assessments that are ongoing.”
For example, Krajewski noted that they anticipate using the City of Casper’s Stormwater Management Master Plan and other studies regarding reservoir and irrigation districts.
“We are trying to give the Natrona County Conservation District and the WWDC a comprehensive database in electronic form,” he said, adding that they will also summarize the data in their final report.
“Since the study started in June 2012, we have had three landowner meetings,” Krajewski commented. “Initially, we had scoping meetings where folks came in and we explained what the study does. We wanted to answer their questions and get input about their concerns for the watershed.”
Krajewski mentioned that they have visited with more than 50 landowners in the process.
“We want to emphasize that landowner participation is voluntary,” added Ogden.
However, she additionally noted that they are searching for opportunities to improve water quality and quantity on privately owned land, while improving the overall quality of the watershed.
“We hope to involve the landowners as much a possible,” Ogden said.
“In our latest meeting,” said Krajewski, “we updated landowners as to where we are at.”
At the conclusion of the study, all the data collected will be available to the landowners. It will also be available online and through the Natrona County Conservation District.
“The number one concern of landowners was water availability,” said Krajewski. “The drought from last year was a major concern, not only on individual properties, but also with supplies and water storage in the whole North Platte basin.”
He continued that RESPEC has been working to analyze the geo-spatial data as one avenue to address those concerns.
“For example, we are looking at what is out there regarding soil information, along with any type of rangeland vegetation information, and displaying that, along with existing water storage,” he explained.
Krajewski noted that the information is very important for grazing and rangeland water development.
Another concern of landowners is selenium in the watershed.
“The Middle North Platte Study is different from the aspect that is has incorporated selenium as a water quality component,” he continued. “It asks not only how does water availability and management affect selenium on irrigated lands, but also how they interact on non-irrigated or dry pastures and rangelands.”
Because selenium is important for water quality and livestock health, Krajewski mentioned that they will continue to work to improve watersheds.
“Moving forward, we are still in the assessment phase,” Krajewski said. “We are wrapping up collection of background material, and now we have a number of landowners to meet with and discuss their concerns.”
The North Platte Watershed is a complex system that offers diverse environments, he continued. Management issues range from the large urban area of Casper, Evansville and Mills to interstate water management.
“It has been an interesting study so far,” Krajewski commented.
“This study will give us an extensive amount of data that we can use to improve our watershed,” added Ogden. “We can apply it to our entire watershed.”
Ogden noted that the project will also help address waters that are listed as impaired by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. Ogden also noted that while they have projects currently underway with the Casper-Alcova Irrigation District, the watershed study will allow other areas, such as the Bates Creek area and Poison Spider Creek, to continue to improve their land and water resources.
The completion date for the study is December 2013.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.