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Laramie – Studying how water flows through soil can help scientists forecast floods, estimate groundwater recharge, discover the affect of water table levels on plant growth, examine return water flow from an irrigation area back to the stream and more.

“There are a whole host of different kinds of problems in which people will need to solve for flows of water through soils,” explains Fred Ogden, Cline Chair of Engineering, Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming (UW).

Looking at some of these challenges, Ogden and his team developed an equation to calculate water flows based on their physical understanding of the process. To validate their findings, they performed a lab study with a clear plexiglass pipe that was carefully packed with sand.

“We installed sensors to measure water content at different heights in the pipe and then connected it to a controlled system that mimicked the water table going up and down at different speeds,” he comments.

Ogden presented his research the project at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in December.

Richards Equation

“The results were just amazing. Compared to the USDA solver for Richards Equation, which is called the Hydrus 1-D, we did just as well,” Ogden notes.

Richards Equation, published in 1931, is a mathematical formula that was developed by Lorenzo Richards to calculate how much water seeps into the soil as rainfall hits the surface and moves toward the water table.

“It’s accurate, but it’s really hard to solve, and it’s not reliable. For any given instance of Richards Equation, there is no guarantee that we are going to get an answer,” Ogden comments.

But when it does provide an answer, Richards Equation is one of the most comprehensive methods that can be used in groundwater research. Ogden’s colleague at New Mexico Tech, John Wilson, suggested investigating similarities between his formula and Richards Equation.

“He said, ‘Your equation must be some form of Richards Equation because nothing else does that,’” Ogden says.

Sitting down with a blank piece of paper, Ogden worked through the math.

“It was a jaw-dropping moment because, I thought that maybe we had more than just an approximate solution. I dismissed that as a fancy or too good to be true, but it turned out to be true,” he remarks.

More reliability

Previously, Ogden had been among the scientists who had never taken Richards Equation seriously as a solution.

“Someone has to be  really serious to write a model that solves the equation and then have no guarantee that they will get an answer, so people just kind of ignored it,” he comments.

Instead, researchers used approximate methods to find acceptable solutions for their work.

“Those methods are not as rigorous or robust. They don’t give us the right answer for the right reason, but they work,” he continues.

Now, with the discovery of a simpler model of the equation, Ogden hopes that scientists will quit ignoring it.

“Now that we have this robust, reliable method, hopefully people can take that collection of hydrologic properties data more seriously,” states Ogden. “Hopefully, it will start a discussion at USDA or in other places to reinvigorate some soil property data collection activities.”

Practical application

  Armed with his latest discovery, Ogden will be traveling to Tuscaloosa, Ala. in the fall to work with the National Weather Service National Water Center, assisting them in using some of the hydrological model techniques that Ogden and his team developed at UW.

“We are thinking about flood predictions primarily, at high resolutions,” he explains.

Such information could allow scientists to predict when an individual creek will flood over the top of a road, for example.

“We could set it up so that we have a way to close that road. That’s our goal,” Ogden remarks.

Agricultural engineers may also benefit from the new information.

“They are interested particularly, in the fate of salts in the root zones,” he comments, hoping that his findings will hold the key to further discoveries.

New technology

Ogden expressed his amazement that another scientist had not yet discovered the new equation.

“It was a surprise when it happened, because of all of the other people that have worked on the problem,” he explains.

The next solution that is considered to be accurate, though still not always reliable, wasn’t published until 1990.

“That’s how hard it is to solve Richards Equation,” he notes.

But Ogden’s brother, a farmer in Colorado, was less shocked by his discovery.

“He said that he wasn’t surprised that it was me, because I am of the first generation of people doing this kind of stuff, really conditioned to think about using computers to solve these problems,” Ogden notes.

Older generations are more prone to pull out a piece of paper and a pencil to derive the equation by hand.

“We knew we couldn’t solve this equation by hand, and we had to use a computer to solve it all along,” he adds.

Improved method

Using the traditional equation and an appropriately large number of samples, there is a good chance that one or more of the samples will fail to produce a solution and the model, as a whole, will not be able to complete the simulation.

“Our method is guaranteed to give us an answer. It removes the penalty of using Richards Equation. We get the same accuracy, we get it much faster and it’s guaranteed to give us an answer,” says Ogden.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Produced water from oil and gas activity is a challenge energy companies have grappled with for years. At the same time, farmers and ranchers across the West are often said to be only a few drought years away from major business impacts. 

“On the right hand, we have the culture of agriculture,” says Marvin Nash, owner of Encore Green, LLC, “and one the left hand, we have industry in oil and gas. Our goal is to create a relationship between the two that is beneficial for both.” 

Focused on water

After working as a rodeo clown and then as an anti-bullying advocate in schools for many years, Nash worked for an oil and gas company in charge of logistics and cost control. 

“One of the cost-control components was disposable water. I dealt with a lot of disposals, and we paid a lot to get rid of the water,” he says. “One guy told me that if we could figure out how to repurpose or reuse the water, we wouldn’t have to build new ponds, which would reduce our costs.”

Then, Nash’s wheels started spinning, and he says, “We have to be smarter about how we used produced water.”
Nash looked at coalbed methane and the challenges associated with that industry and water use, noting a good solution still had to be available. 

He teamed up with long-time friend Jeff Holder from California to find a solution.

Encore Green

The result was a company called Encore Green, LLC, which utilizes a mobile unit to clean water to be reused by farmers and ranchers. 

Nash and his wife took their life savings to start the business, which utilizes proprietary data tracking and quality control software to maintain costs, quality and efficiency for water to ensure it can be beneficially used. 

“We are an ag company that serves the energy community by transforming produced byproduct water into water for beneficial use in agriculture,” Nash explains. “The result is that oil moves, crops grow, landowners prosper, livestock graze, water is saved and the environment is better for it.” 

Communication

Despite the success of Encore Green, Nash saw the need for more. 

Specifically, he says, “When I was working in oil and gas, I talked with a number of companies at their corporate offices. I realized the key to making everything work with oil and gas and reclamation was communication.”

Nash continues, “I don’t care whether we’re working sheep with a dog or sorting cattle with our family and neighbors, we have to communicate to get the job done. I know that concept could be applied to produced water.”

Holder, who’s talent comes in communication, teamed up with Nash to develop a strategy to help make the connection between landowners and oil and gas companies where water is concerned. 

The organization, called the Beneficial-Use Water Alliance (BUWA), works to pair oil and gas companies with a nuisance product – produced water – with landowners who can utilize that water. 

“I believe, if we could link ranchers to participate in that process, then there could be untapped revenue in that water,” Nash comments. “It all comes back to communication.”

Holder notes one theme in all of Nash’s experiences was identifying a common goal between landowners and oil and gas companies. 

“Part of the success of Encore Green has been in bringing a lot of different people to one place with the common of goal of figuring out what we can do with produced water,” Holder says. “The hardest part is to get people to come together and think differently about the problem.”

New mindset

Holder and Nash both emphasize BUWA doesn’t center around a particular technology or a particular solution for produced water. Rather, they note each solution is unique.

“BUWA hopes to approach this problem definitely to see how we all can win,” Holder comments, noting their strategy looks to make sure there isn’t a loser. “We’re trying to be matchmakers and put people together who normally wouldn’t talk.”

For example, if a landowner in an area where oil and gas production is prevalent needs water, BUWA may be able to find a company that has water available and vice versa.

“We want to be a tangible resource that connects people who are trying to accomplish certain goals,” Holder adds. “Each company knows what they do, but not necessarily what the other people or companies do. BUWA puts these people together.”

He continues, “We want to build a community to think about these problems differently.” 

Moving forward

BUWA strives to work with parties of varying interests to change the mindset regarding the problem of produced water. 

“The industry has a choice of what to do with their water,” Holder says. “If the choice doesn’t hurt and only helps people involved, it’s better for everyone to put the water to beneficial use. Ag can help oil and gas to achieve better use.” 

Nash adds, “This is a vision and a thought process that looks at the whole picture. This is a win-win-win-win model.”

Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for using produced water beneficially, Holder and Nash note concerns about water transport, cleaning by-products and more can be addressed on an individual basis, but the unifying factor is that the least cost and most beneficial strategy comes from centrally locating solutions around the land.

“Every question is a fair question. The big challenge is working together for a good, common sense solution,” Nash comments. “BUWA is an all-inclusive way to figure out where the problem lies and how we connect the dots between ag and energy production.” 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO) Water Update meetings held throughout the state in May, Karl Taboga of the Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) led discussions on the WSGS Statewide Groundwater Baseflow Study, as well as the new Wyoming Groundwater Atlas tool.

Study

According to Taboga, the primary purpose of the WSGS Statewide Groundwater Baseflow Study was to obtain reasonable preliminary estimates on recharge using publicly available data.

“Specifically, what we’re interested in is recharge – or in other words, precipitation that enters the ground and goes into groundwater that later discharges to surface water bodies like springs or streams,” says Taboga.

The data collected from the mathematical model was then compared to data from other existing models.

“We evaluated our results by comparing estimates from the new model to estimates we obtained from other existing models throughout the state, as well as some selected areas,” he explains.

Results

“The results were fairly clear-cut that the highest amount of recharge occurs in areas with the most precipitation,” says Taboga.

While the explanation sounds quite basic, Taboga explains that, for Wyoming, it means the mountainous areas of the state have the greatest amount of recharge, including the northwestern mountainous region, the Medicine Bow Mountains, the Big Horns and the Black Hills.

“The areas of least recharge are the basin interiors, which are those low lying semi-arid places in Wyoming,” he comments.

He stresses that results are based on average annual recharge rates and are on a large-scale basis.

“These are best used in large-scale applications and probably shouldn’t be used on anything other than the sub-basin scale,” notes Taboga.

He continues, “This isn’t something we could say we could use for a particular year or a very small area, like an area that encompasses a few square miles. This is just a tool that would be used essentially by environmental consultants on larger scales.”

Comparisons

Taboga explains the study compared model results to those from a previous Global Information System (GIS)-based recharge model by the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC).

“We also looked at two models and structural basins in Wyoming that were done by the United States Geological Survey (USGS),” says Taboga.

When results of the study model were compared to the WyGISC model, he notes, “Our results appear to be somewhat more accurate than their measurements.”

Taboga continues, “When we looked at the USGS models, the Powder River Structural Basin and the High Plains aquifer in Wyoming, we found that our numbers had fairly good agreement with the USGS models that employed a different modeling technique.”

Atlas

A new addition to their resources this spring. Taboga explains the Wyoming Groundwater Atlas is an interactive map, which allows users to visualize the location of Wyoming State Engineer’s Office (SEO) wells.

“It allows folks to get in there and look at where wells are located in their area. For the most part, SEO provides that information in tabular form on their e-permit website,” says Taboga.

The online atlas allows users to click on various wells on a map and obtain summary information that would be found on the SEO website.

“What’s really nice about it is because it’s an interactive map, we can see approximate locations of where these wells are, and we can visualize where everything is relative to one another rather than just looking at tabular data,” he continues.

He continues, “It’s a pretty exciting tool in the fact that it takes the data sets from a number of agencies and puts them all in one place where the information can be used pretty easily.”

Feedback

Taboga explains WSGS recently performed numerous water data updates in conjunction with WWDO throughout the state, where they were able to interact with a variety of attendees.

“We got a lot of interest from not only the water professionals but also from ranchers because they can go in there and look at water quality data from USGS tests, where SEO wells are located, the geology in the surrounding areas and also evapotranspiration and recharge,” comments Taboga.

Taboga notes that WSGS plans to update the atlas every one to two years, and suggestions from users are welcome.

“We’re open to suggestions about what people may like to see in the Wyoming Groundwater Atlas moving forward,” Taboga concludes.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at emilee@wylr.net.

Lander - The theme of the 2012 Wyoming Water Association annual meeting and education seminar was “Managing Water for Extremes.” Senator John Barrasso addressed about 75 people last week about the importance of civic engagement and water in Wyoming during the event.
    Attendees of the four-day annual meeting heard from over 17 agencies regarding the state of water across Wyoming.
    “Water is a huge part of Wyoming’s farms and ranches,” said Barrasso. “These farms and ranches have survived the Great Depression, droughts, floods and fires. And yet the hardest thing to deal with is actually the burdensome rules and regulations coming out of Washington. People who don’t understand the Rocky Mountain West and why water is such a big issue are making decisions.”
    “People who live in Wyoming need to be making the decision about our state,” he continued. “It would it be more useful if the people in Washington had some real life experience. Not what should work because they read about it in a textbook, but what does work.”
    One of the most damaging law changes regarding water had to do with the changing the word “navigable” about what waters of which the federal government would be in charge.
    “We went to war with that issue,” Barrasso said. “To the point that the members of the House and Senate who proposed the change lost their re-election bid in 2010. We were not only able to defeat that law, we were able to defeat the people who were proposing it. It is essentially hand-to-hand combat to protect the things that are important in Wyoming.”
    Barrasso says that he takes Wyoming’s Code of the West and applies it to the politics in Washington, D.C. – especially number 10: know where to draw the line.
    “I have found the best town meeting of all,” Barrasso says, “is the back parking lot while tail gating before a University of Wyoming football game. You get news from all over the state.”
    Barrasso ended by quoting Ronald Reagan from his 1982 speech at the University of Wyoming, saying, “The thing I love about Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West is that the people here still believe that the future is ours to create.”
    Melissa Hemken is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – “Most citizens in Wyoming think about water in a unique way,” Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said during his luncheon address at the 2014 Wyoming Water Association conference. “If the faucet doesn’t turn on, we think about water. If we are in a drought, we think about water, but recognizing that water is our most important resource outside of our people, we have to think about it all the time.”

Mead noted that because water is so important, he has made it an important component of his term in office, going so far as to develop a water strategy to ensure Wyoming water is protected for the benefit of Wyoming citizens.

Water strategy

After developing the Wyoming Energy Strategy, Mead noted that one of the actions from the strategy required development of a water strategy. 

“As important as energy is, it is not more important than water,” he said. “People have different perspectives about why they care about water, but we all recognize the value of Wyoming water.”

Because of its value, he commented, the state needs to take proactive efforts to protect and utilize water for the benefit of the state.

“We began this water strategy because Wyoming’s most important natural resource is water,” Mead added. 

Looking forward

Looking back in history, Mead noted that many efforts have been taken by forward-thinking individuals to address and improve water in the state, and efforts need to continue to be taken. 

“In 1910, the Buffalo Bill Reservoir was built,” he said. “They didn’t build it for the people of 1911 and 1912, they built it for us now.”

“In my last State of the State, I said, ‘When we think about water and the value of water, we have to have the same vision of 100 years ago. What is going to be necessary in not just two, five and 10 years, but 100 years from now?’ That is how valuable water is,” Mead said.

Mead’s water strategy seeks to combine the interests of Wyoming’s population and to look toward the future in developing water. 

“We held nine listening sessions and received comments in four main areas,” he explained, citing water development; management, conservation and protection; management; and water and watershed restoration. “We received over 7,000 emails.”

Initiatives were developed to address the input provided by citizens and ensure that Wyoming interests are protected. 

Next steps

In developing the strategy in the future, Mead noted the process will continue to be challenging.

“As we make decisions, there is no question this is going to be controversial, but if we do nothing because it is hard or controversial, that is the worst,” Mead said. “All of this is for naught if we don’t have water in Wyoming.”

Mead noted that, in looking at the situation in the Colorado River and with Lower Basin states, Wyoming needs to be cognizant that the compacts governing Wyoming water are powerful. 

“While we agree and disagree on what should be done on different initiatives in our water strategy, we should collectively agree that it makes no difference if we don’t keep Wyoming water in Wyoming as much as possible,” he continued.

Sound strategy

Wyoming must work through the disagreements to protect the state’s water today and moving into the future. 

With over $20 billion in savings for the state, Mead explained that Wyoming has great financial strength that comes from the state’s private sector, including agriculture, minerals and tourism, but each of those sectors is dependent on water.

“We have to have this strategy and make sure it is sound,” Mead added. 

“As we move forward with this water strategy, it has been extraordinary watching the input from Wyoming citizens,” Mead said. “We want to get it right, and we want to hear every point of view. We entered this with an open mind, and we will keep that to develop a water strategy that is right for Wyoming.”

WOTUS

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead recognized that federal government overreach also impacts Wyoming waters, particularly citing the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. 

“This rule was developed prior to consulting with states,” Mead said. “The EPA and Corps suggest this is going to be beneficial to the state’s ag and tourism. I disagree with that.”

He also cited concern with the manner by which the federal government proposed the rule – without consulting any state authorities. 

“I think rule is contrary to the purpose of the Clean Water Act, which is to recognize, preserve and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of the state,” he said.

Mead also noted that the rule extends the Clean Water Act to the point where it expands beyond a water issue and become a land concern. 

“With the great water law we have, we think we are in the best position to manage and use the water in Wyoming,” Mead said. “I asked the EPA and Corps not to change the rule but to withdraw the rule.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..