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A gift to the University of Wyoming supports water management in the state

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

A gift from the Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation in honor of the late Kurt Bucholz, rancher, large-animal veterinarian and legislator, will support something Bucholz was very passionate about – ethical water rights management and hydrology research in Wyoming and across the West.

“Kurt would have been so excited and supportive of this program,” says Laura Bucholz, president of the Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation and surviving spouse of Kurt Bucholz. “Water was so important to him, and I think this will have a lasting impact across the state.”

The major gift from the Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation supports the Dr. Kurt S. Bucholz Irrigation Science Excellence Fund, which fosters excellence and provides financial support to the University of Wyoming (UW) Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.

“This gift will leave an impression not just on the university, but also on the state of Wyoming as a whole,” says UW President Ed Seidel.

This UW irrigation science excellence fund will support Wyoming agriculture – specifically, directorship or a graduate student engaged in water rights management or hydrology research. A majority of this gift benefited from state matching dollars, and so the impact of this fund will be even larger.

Bucholz paves the way for water management

Bucholz was a well-known Saratoga rancher, veterinarian and Carbon County legislator who was involved in water administration and supply concerns facing the Upper North Platte River Basin. 

He was the founding member of the Upper North Platte Water Users’ Association and served as president of its board for eight years. In 2002, Bucholz was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. He died in 2006.

The Bucholz Ranch is nestled in the valleys of southern Wyoming among a patchwork of many large ranches whose survival rests on irrigated water. 

With help from UW researchers and administrators, as well as those in the legislature, members of this sprawling community are not only learning more about effective methods for water management, they are also paving the way for complex conflict resolution across Wyoming and other drought-prone areas throughout the American West.

“Ranch Manager Bill Clay and I always felt the more people who had the same information, the better off we would be – if we could all get on the same page,” Laura says. “Our group started talking and having some reasonable discussions. Not to say it wasn’t a little tense at first, but we’ve come such a long way in the past 10 years. It’s amazing.”

Michael Condict, Upper North Platte Water Users’ Association ranching group coordinator, understands the importance of Wyoming water rights. His family ranch was homesteaded in 1884 and holds water rights in the Brush Creek drainage, Elk Hollow Creek drainage, Cedar Creek drainage and several points in between.

“Before the program, we spent more time fighting with each other and threatening lawsuits than we did irrigating the water once we had it,” Condict says. “And, in most cases, we really didn’t have any way to know whether the water we were fighting over belonged to who we thought it belonged to.”

“We had no way to determine the priority in any of these streams, and frankly, the state had no way of determining a priority in any of the streams, let alone any ability to administer it if we knew what that priority was,” he added.

Brush Creek
Watershed Project

The Brush Creek Watershed Project is a model program for irrigation science, technology, management and conflict resolution within the state and beyond. 

This shared project advances cooperative and effective administration of water rights among ranchers and other users of the watershed. It has allowed the Brush Creek water rights to move from paper to a real-world digital model.

“The general idea is to provide administration during the summer and to provide an impartial voice at the table when discussing irrigation matters,” says Joseph Cook, a UW graduate student who serves as an irrigation administrator. 

“Our main roles are ensuring each person has the correct amount of water, and in order to do this, we have to start by predicting how much of the water is supposed to go in each ditch each day and then spend the rest of the day going around the system trying to match flows as closely as possible to the predictions,” Cook continues.

The administrative focus of the project includes conflict resolution and overcoming decades of contentious debate. The science focus of the project includes computer modeling to calculate water rights priorities in real time. 

Watershed Hydrology
Graduate Assistantship

The Watershed Hydrology Graduate Assistantship, also established by the Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation, is a vital part of the Brush Creek project. This endowment supports a graduate student in the UW College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources, who is in charge of managing the program.

“The university’s involvement with this project has been instrumental in resolving water rights conflicts within Wyoming, and I am thrilled we will be able to expand this concept to other regions in need of solutions,” Seidel says.

The graduate assistantship fund, managed through the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, specifically goes to a graduate student pursuing a PhD in hydrologic sciences or rangeland ecology and watershed management at UW. 

Support can last five years and can cover the majority of costs for the student to pursue innovative research toward the betterment of water management in Wyoming.

The Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation honors Kurt Bucholz’s mother, Gretchen Swanson (Bucholz) Velde, who served as president of the foundation. 

An active and dedicated philanthropist in Omaha, Neb., Velde spent much of her life contributing to nutrition, education and the arts in memory of her family. She also served on numerous boards.

Gretchen was the daughter of Carl Swanson, a turn-of-the-century produce wholesaler who founded C.A. Swanson and Sons Co., which developed the TV dinner. The company merged with Campbell Soup Co. in 1955.

The Gretchen Swanson Family Foundation gift was received during the eighth annual UW Giving Day, a philanthropic tradition spearheaded by the UW Foundation, which takes place online and across campus.

“It’s inspiring the ways this community continues to give back,” says John Stark, president and chief executive officer of the UW Foundation. “I am filled with gratitude and admiration for the impact this will have for the fine people of this university.”

UW News originally published this story on Jan. 31. It can be found at

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