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By Chris Nicholson, Water Resources Data System Director

Do you need water and climate data? Want to know how dry or wet it has been? Hot or cold?  Windy? We can help!  The Water Resources Data System (WRDS) is a clearinghouse and repository of hydrological and climatological data for the state of Wyoming. 

WRDS is funded by the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) and housed within the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming. Through the years, WRDS has developed into the most comprehensive single source of accurate surface and groundwater quantity and quality, snowpack and other climatological data available for Wyoming, fulfilling more than 300 data requests and seeing more than 200,000 website visitors annually.  

For over 40 years, WRDS has provided information to numerous federal, state, county and municipal agencies, private engineering firms, public schools, libraries, private citizens and other universities.

Online climate and water data

WRDS hosts several websites with data products and links related to Wyoming climate, hydrography, water quality and drought information at wrds.uwyo.edu.  

This website features precipitation data from CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, as well as new climate monitoring maps, graphs and downloadable data compiled by the State Climate Office, which can be reached at wrds.uwyo.edu/sco/climate_office.html.   

This information will help water planners and stakeholders gain a sense of climatic variation over time and across the state. 

WRDS is also updating related GIS Web Mapping Tools that let users search and view maps and data related to groundwater wells, stream flow, precipitation, public water system data and information on the state’s irrigated lands.

Wyoming Water Library

The Wyoming Water Library housed at WRDS is a comprehensive collection of almost 21,000 documents related to Wyoming’s water resources. Our library is an exceptional resource for individuals desiring more in-depth information on the State’s water resources. 

Materials in the collection range from Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) Level I and II reports to State Engineer’s Office documents, U.S. Geological Survey Reports and University of Wyoming theses.

WRDS actively works to support the WWDO by assisting staff in the development of the State Water Plan, hosting and maintaining the Commissions numerous webpages, for example, the WWDC, State Water Plan, WRDS, Water Library and State Climate Office sites, and serves as the primary library and repository for WWDC reports and related data.

CoCoRaHS

Because Wyoming is the fifth driest state in the U.S. and because precipitation varies so much from place to place over short distances, WRDS is actively working to get better precipitation data in conjunction with the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) project. 

CoCoRaHS, found at cocorahs.org, is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers working together to measure and map precipitation in all its forms.  It uses low-cost measurement tools, stresses training and education and uses an interactive website with the goal of providing the highest quality precipitation data for natural resource, education and research applications. 

WRDS provides a free rain gauge to any volunteer who joins Wyoming CoCoRaHS and reports precipitation, or the lack of it. Contact us if you are interested. We would welcome your help!

Snowpack

Water in the form of high-elevation snowpack is a critical resource for all segments of Wyoming’s population and no one more than ranchers and irrigators who rely on late-season snowmelt for much of their water supply.  

Because of the importance of snow to our water supply, WRDS has partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide maps and data of how much snow our mountain ranges are receiving. This information is available at wrds.uwyo.edu/wrds/nrcs/nrcs.html.  

NRCS’s constellation of snow telemetry sites (SnoTel) provide daily data on the water content of snow, also known as the snow water equivalent (SWE).  WRDS uses this information to generate daily maps of SWE for 19 river basins to keep the public informed on the progress of our snowpack reservoirs.

Water year 2014 began October 2013 with drought conditions covering 74 percent of the state, but Wyoming was drought-free by the end of March.  As water year 2015 begins, we anxiously await the onset the winter snows and hope for a productive snow season! 

If you are interested in finding out more about water and climate in Wyoming and need data or information, please feel free to contact WRDS at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 307-766-6651.

 

“You get what you pay for” is a saying that often assumes limitations. It comes to mind when you or a friend find disappointment in a supposed bargain. 

Add an intensifying phrase, and it points out that quality costs more, too. You really do get what you pay for.

For many years, good value meant low price and acceptable quality. But some time in the last 10 years, consumer studies began to show quality trumps price when shopping for beef. The higher beef prices trended, the more important quality became.

In the long run, price and value are the same, but in the short run, almost never. As Warren Buffet put it, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

It takes time and experience to sort out the difference between a real bargain and regret. 

Prices for cattle and beef are up. What about the value?

You probably sold cattle for the most, per-pound or per-head, ever in your life in the last year. Were they worth it to the buyer?

Just because somebody pays the price doesn’t mean they’re satisfied. The beef and cattle businesses have become “high steaks” games.

Let’s say you’re selling bulls. With average prices often $1,000 higher than last year, your reputation has never been under greater scrutiny. Many bull auctions had a spread of more than $10,000 top to bottom this year, but of course nobody can use a line like, “Well, what do you expect for only $4,000?”

Over the next few years, let’s say the bulls perform as expected. Their calves make money in the feedlot and hit the quality beef target even as their daughters improve the herd. In that case, the top-end purchasers will say, “You really do get what you pay for.” 

Let’s say you’re selling calves. Maybe you topped the auction at three dollars per pound or partnered with a feedlot at such a price. Maybe you “got rid of them” for $2.20 per pound. In any case, the pressure is on your reputation. Will the limitations come to mind or satisfaction at finding intrinsic value?

Let’s say you’re selling beef. Auction is not an option, and a retailer has only days to sell fresh product. It has to look great, and it helps if it’s backed by a quality grade or brand that reassures the buyer this will be worth the price. Ordered from a restaurant menu, the experience has to make us realize we really do get what we pay for.

Commodity markets are supposed to deal in perfectly interchangeable units. Many people consider cattle and beef as commodities – unless they have personal experience. Too much is at stake today for any producer to think and act as if all are the same. 

They’re not like real estate with each being absolutely unique, but the differences between individuals, cuts, brands and quality grades are increasingly important to buyers at these record prices. 

On average, cattle and beef are good values.

We know “value” has another meaning. There are some things you won’t do for a higher price because of your values. The right thing to do is sometimes not the most profitable. But when it is, a bright light shines on the realization.

High-quality beef commands a higher price. It is produced by attention to detail in selection and management, and making sure cattle never have a bad day. Demand studies show an increasing supply of lower quality beef is twice as likely to reduce the price as increasing the supply of premium Choice and Prime beef.

The road most in line with the high road of values is the same road to a more profitable future for your cowherd enterprise and your family.

Next time in Black Ink® Miranda Reiman will look at all the people it takes to make the beef supply chain work. Questions? Call 330-465-0820 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Several weeks ago, news of Al Wiederspahn’s death caused a whiplash, which cracked quickly around the Cowboy State. His loss is felt keenly by many of us beyond his family and friends because of the many contributions he made to his community.  While a very private man, Al was generous with his time and considerable intellect, and those of us fortunate to benefit from his wisdom also gained precious insights into his beliefs, opinions and hopes for the future.  

A conversation with Al was always a journey – a meandering trip that touched on all manner of related subjects before ending up at the required destination.  He was a model for civility – always polite, always proper and always impeccably dressed.  While one of the most patient people imaginable, he was not always patient.  Al could not stand hypocrisy, stupidity or dishonesty, and he was not shy about expressing his opinions of the unworthy. Very politely.  Properly.  And while handsomely attired.  

Al served on the Board of Directors of the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust since 2009 and was Chairman for several of those years.  He was passionate about our work and the opportunity we have to conserve not just land, but Wyoming’s “cultural landscape.”  He gave a great deal of time and energy to our Land Trust and was a greatly valued mentor, leader, conscience, philanthropist, counsel  and, perhaps most importantly, expansive thinker.  

What follows is something Al wrote for the Land Trust’s newsletter in 2010.  Not only does it describe our work at its very best, it also reminds us of what we will miss most about Al.

“The Ranching Culture”

By Alvin Wiederspahn

It is a privilege for me to serve on the Board of the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust (WSGALT).  While much of WSGALT’s work focuses on the conservation of ranch lands, it is perhaps less recognized that by preserving agricultural uses on those lands, WSGALT also furthers the protection of a culture – the culture of ranching.

Culture has been described as the total way of life that characterizes a group of people.  By any measure or definition, ranching embodies a singular culture.  The ranch culture is comprised of a distinctive set of cultural components, which include animal husbandry, architecture, courtship, cuisine, dance, dress, etiquette, free enterprise, gestures, individual freedom, language, music, values and work ethic. It is primarily through the agency of their culture that people interact with and modify their environment. Ranch culture affects certain attributes of the land, reflecting the way of life of the people who live and work on it. The ranch culture’s relationships with the physical environment create a unique “cultural ecology.”

The stewardship exercised through these relationships has preserved sustainable environments that are largely unchanged by human behavior. Many of Wyoming’s prodigious landscapes are inextricably tied to production agriculture. Our state’s defining physical features – climates, landforms and natural vegetation – are particularly well suited to stock-raising.  Ranching’s human activity, with all its attributes and works, has preserved open space, protected habitat for wildlife and provided food and fiber for a nation.  The ranch culture is in alignment with resource conservation because ranchers’ lives and livelihoods depend on the good stewardship of those places entrusted to their care. That is why one of WSGALT’s premiere objectives is to facilitate ranch families’ personal decisions concerning their private property, allowing the creation of conditions that will protect ranches for future generations and preserve both a landscape and a way of life.  Through the creation of a properly crafted conservation easement, WSGALT provides a means to preserve the “cultural landscape” of ranching.

Cultural landscapes have been defined as “geographical terrains which exhibit characteristics, or which represent the values, of a society as a result of human interaction with the environment” or as lands which “represent the combined works of nature and man…” or, more philosophically, as “a set of ideas and practices embedded in a place [which] captures the relationship of [its] tangible and intangible qualities.” The value of such cultural landscapes is coming to be increasingly recognized and appreciated.

A noted geographer, Pierce Lewis, has stated, “The attempt to derive meaning from landscapes possesses overwhelming virtue.  It keeps us constantly alert to the world around us, demanding that we pay attention not just to some of the things around us but to all of them – the whole visible world in all of its rich, glorious, messy, confusing, ugly and beautiful complexity.”  Ranchers have always been attuned to this complexity and to the productive, cultural, aesthetic and, yes, theological meaning derived from the landscape.

By protecting ranchlands and ranch life, the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust works to preserve ranch culture, ranch landscapes and this important cultural ecology of Wyoming – and well it should.  After all, “culture” is our middle name.

One of the first lessons I have an opportunity to teach every fall to our freshman animal science students discusses the most important things produced in American agriculture. Often, students guess the predictable answers such as beef, corn and wheat.  My question, however, deals with a much more important part of the future American agriculture. The answer I am looking for, often overlooked by my students, lies within them. The most important thing produced in American agriculture is its young people, and for the future of the Casper College Agriculture Department, these young people are potential students. 

The future has never looked brighter for the Casper College (CC) Agriculture Department. We have always had a great group of young people, talented faculty and the strong support of our administration. Now, with the addition of the CC Ranch Campus, we feel our facilities can help make us one of the elite agriculture programs in the country.

The CC Ranch Campus was purchased last March and has provided immediate benefits to our program and students.  The ranch is 167 acres in all, with 100 acres under center pivot and another 20 acres irrigable with hand sprinklers.  The property includes many multi-purpose buildings, including a large, year-round greenhouse, already able to withstand even the harshest of cold spells.   Also included is a small meats lab with a walk-in freezer, fabrication room and overhead rail system, which has greatly complimented our animal science classes.  

Livestock pens, barn space and room to expand were also part of the attractiveness of the new property. One thing our Department had always been hampered with is the limited space for our livestock.  For years, our rodeo team has hauled practice stock to and from the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds everyday during practice. This takes a huge toll on our coaches and the students’ time, our vehicles and the livestock, not to mention the expense of hauling the livestock back and forth on an almost daily basis. 

From my perspective as an instructor and alumni of our program, the ranch campus is a true blessing with countless opportunities ahead. About the only thing it doesn’t have that our program needs is an indoor teaching arena to expand our course offerings and provide our rodeo team with a home.  What the new property does have, though, is a great deal of space.  We are currently in the final stages of designing the new indoor teaching facility.  We are also in the finishing stages of completing a fundraising campaign for the project. Naming opportunities still exist!

Our vision for the future is truly exciting. We plan to have a working farm/ranch for our students to get their hands dirty and boots muddy.  Our hope is to start our own Casper College beef herd, sheep flock and swine herd.  We want our students to not only learn concepts in the classroom but be able to apply these to practical experiences at the CC Ranch Campus. We want our students to be able to calve cows, dock lambs and wean pigs.  Many of our students would like the chance to take some of the offspring and develop them for sales or shows. In the future, the more our students can be involved, the greater the learning experience and the more satisfied we all will be.

In the future, we plan for our rodeo team to keep their horses, trailers and tack at the ranch. We plan to have all our practice stock there, including our leased bucking stock for the season.  We plan to practice in our own equine facility and feed our stock our own hay.  Students can rope and ride inside our own equine facility while the wind blows and snow flies outside.  

We plan to continue to provide degrees for student in the subjects of Animal Science, Range Management, Ag Communications and Ag Business. We are committed to continuing our winning tradition with the livestock judging team and turning out All-Americans like the three we graduated this past spring. We plan to have the best rodeo team in the Central Rocky Mountain Region, following in the footsteps of the teams who were regional champs in 2011-12 and the College National Finals qualifying team in 2014.  

To do this, or any of our future plans, the one valuable variable we need is students. We plan to attract and recruit the best students in Wyoming and the region.  Despite Casper College’s investment in facilities and the CC Ranch Campus, the most valuable part of our program remains our students. If you are a potential student or know a potential student, please contact us at any time for more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..