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Laramie – The Office of Water Programs at UW was created in 2002 by the Wyoming legislature, and it aligns the university with the major water agencies in the state, including the Wyoming Water Development Commission and the State Engineer’s Office (SEO).
“It’s important that the university is aligned with the water needs and water research needs in the state,” says UW Vice President of Research and Economic Development Bill Gern, who also deals with water research and related initiatives at UW.
The Office of Water Programs also distributes one million dollars in federal funding each year to researchers, along with advising the WWDC and directing UW’s National Institute of Water Research, run by the U.S. Geological Survey. Gern says the office also directs water research programs through the Select Water Committee and serves as an advisor to the Wyoming Water Association.
“It is important to identify the research needs of state and federal agencies, and serve as a coordinator for the activities, with the needs of the state and UW researchers in mind,” says Gern.
The office does that through a competitive grants program, which Gern says is strongly supported by an advisory committee including eight state and private agencies, with the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts being the private entity.
“The office serves an active role in identifying research needs. As research items become high priority to the state, this group will go through those and develop an annual RFP (request for proposals) and they select the projects that will be funded,” says Gern.
The group also monitors the progress through annual and semi annual reports. “We do this so we’re as closely aligned with state agencies as we possibly can be, in bringing forward their research needs to the university, and to provide answers to questions so they can set policy and address problems,” notes Gern.
Gern says the UW College of Engineering receives the lion’s share of the grant funding, and that mostly contributes to the areas of civil and architectural engineering. He says the ag college also holds a large number of the grants, as does arts and sciences college and the Natural Diversity Database. “It’s important to understand the status of species so we can understand the allocation of water,” he explains.
“It’s a very robust program within the university, with $400,000 per year in funds. It’s a major initiative, and we give a great deal of attention to it,” says Gern.
The Office of Water Programs also does training, with 11 masters students trained to date. “Of those students, nine sit in Wyoming engineering firms, several are in state and federal agencies, and several have gone on to work for other universities,” says Gern.
Of the office’s projects, Gern says they’re very diverse, and the projects are selected based on how important they are to the state of Wyoming.
“Understanding water quality criteria for livestock and wildlife is an element we have to understand as we use our water resources,” he notes. “Wyoming has been involved in weather modification, and that’s done mostly from direct funding from WWDC, but this program is also funding elements contributing to understanding how weather modification will alter stream flows and water availability in watersheds.”
Gern says UW researcher Carol Frost has developed an extremely sensitive tool for understanding the source and fate of water developed through coalbed natural gas. He’s says it’s that work that’s now filling Wyoming Attorney General’s office and SEO with data.
“As we talk with Montana about the Tongue River and the water quality there, and of other rivers heading out of the Powder River Basin, that research has given us a great deal of data that Montana does not have. That demonstrates how research can be used to support, in this case, a very important lawsuit in the state of Wyoming,” he explains, adding there’s a lot of research aimed at hydrologic impact modeling. “Can we model and understand water output from basins and small areas? As we get into spider webs of streams, can we really do a good job modeling output from these basins, and can we do it in a way that is reliable?”
Gern says the new supercomputing facility at Cheyenne will be used to understand geological complexity including soil wetness and groundwater hydrology. He says the computer will be able to run elaborate calculations on a large scale and in good detail. He adds that carbon sequestration could become a major producer of water in Wyoming, and that the computer will allow researchers to look at the world more closely as they develop complexity.
“We can do all sorts of things, and have the computer calculate and model for us in extremely fine detail, and with a fair amount of fidelity to what is actually occurring in the natural world,” he says.
UW’s Bill Gern was present at the 2010 annual meeting of the Wyoming Water Association in Laramie in late October. Christy Martinez 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..

By Bobbie Frank 

    There are currently 85 impaired or threatened waters identified by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that the local conservation districts, under the leadership of citizens’ watershed steering committees, are working to restore. With the increasing workload, the need to demonstrate “good faith efforts” in improving water quality, along with new strings attached to federal Clean Water Act funding, have necessitated the conservation districts’ request that the Department of Agriculture increase the level of state funding currently utilized for water quality efforts across the state. The funding request amounts to $375,738.
    In the past year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun putting pressure on the DEQ to only fund watershed improvement efforts where a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has been established. This means that grant funds for planning, water quality monitoring and cost-share for implementation of projects such as water developments, septic rehabilitation, animal feeding operations, etc. will not be available until after the DEQ has completed a TMDL or unless the districts agree to develop an “EPA Watershed-based Plan.” This is a development that many districts are not comfortable with as it, like a TMDL, requires the identification of pollutant loads by land use activity. Obviously, getting a jump-start on implementation of on-the-ground water quality improvement efforts utilizing the federal funds will be stymied in the future.
    In addition, now that the state has approved the new Chapter 1 water quality regulations, there is an opportunity to submit data and information for a change in the recreation use designation (recreation use designations determine the E. coli standard for a given waterbody). Since E. coli is the pollutant responsible for most of the state’s non-point source water quality impairments, this change makes meeting the water quality standard more realistic. Accurately protecting waters for their true capabilities for recreation use is important in ensuring the proper E. coli standard is applied. There are a good number of waters in this state that have little to no water yet they are being protected for swimming uses. This results in time and money being targeted to the wrong water quality problems. However, to make these changes it will require someone to collect the necessary information and get it submitted to DEQ. It’s a role that many districts will likely assume.
    Wyoming state law, regulations and the Nonpoint Source Management Plan, contemplates that once a water quality issue is identified, those potential contributors to the problem will take “good faith” efforts to implement management practices to reduce the contribution of pollutants that may be exacerbating the water quality problem. Although the state does, unlike the EPA, retain the ability and authority to regulate nonpoint source pollutants, or more accurately the land use activity that is contributing the pollutant, they do not typically regulate those activities and rely on the voluntary, incentive-based “good faith” approach. This approach was recently recognized by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the Pole Mountain area. Given the variability and uncertainty of nonpoint source pollution, it is recognized that implementing management changes and then determining if any improvement is realized is the acceptable approach. It is imperative, especially in the atmosphere of continual challenges to multiple uses of the public lands, these voluntary water quality improvement efforts continue without delay.
    One of the keys to the success of the watershed efforts in Wyoming has been the technical assistance provided to the local districts and their constituents. Through a partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts has contracted for two watershed coordinators to serve the needs of the local people. These coordinators, housed in Cheyenne and Buffalo, drive countless hours across the state to offer assistance in understanding the various rules and regulations, initiating watershed planning, the development of monitoring plans, and with data collection for accurate classifications. Funding for one of the positions was obtained through a federal Clean Water Act grant for the past four years. The other was secured with existing state funding. The grant dollars are no longer available. Without the increase in state funding, one of the two positions will no longer exist. This ultimately limits the direct assistance to the local people for their efforts.
    The Association recently published the “2007 watersheds progress” report. This report provides a synopsis of all of the water quality improvement efforts across the state. The citizenry of this state has truly stepped up. The funding for these efforts is approximately 30 percent local and private funding, 50 percent federal funding and the remaining 20 percent state funding. The requested funds, although not a huge amount, allow the local districts to leverage other local state and federal funding.
    The watersheds progress reports will soon be available at Bobbie Frank is Executive Director of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts.

Casper – Over the past 30 years, around $225 million in grant loans have been given out for approximately 30 water projects rehabilitated or constructed through the Wyoming Water Development Commission’s Dam and Reservoir Division.

The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) was established in 1979 for projects throughout the state dealing with conservation, storage, distribution and the general use of Wyoming water.

“Funded by the Mineral Severance Tax, the WWDC takes funds generated from the development of renewable resources and invests them in the renewable resource of water,” said WWDC Dam and Reservoir Division hydrologist Jason Mead in a presentation he gave at the WWDC annual meeting Oct. 26 in Casper. “The WWDC has three accounts: Account 1 is for new development, Account 2 is rehabilitation for structures 15 years and older, and Account 3 is for dams and reservoirs, which was created in 2005 to identify, evaluate, construct and permit new dams.”

Mead said that currently the reservoir account contains $125 million, and that project criteria is unique for the dams and reservoirs program.

“The project has to be 200,000 acre-feet or larger for new storage, and 1,000 acre-feet or bigger on existing storage,” he explained, adding that sponsor requirements are also different, due to the complexity of dams and the questions that need answers. “We don’t require a sponsor to become a public entity until Level 2, Phase 3, which is the design and permitting stage, while other WWDC projects require a sponsor for Level 2 feasibility studies.”

Mead said affordability for agriculture is helped through the flexibility of the agency to put forth a grant and loan based on the sponsor’s ability to pay, and what additional revenue they might get from stored water. He said the public benefit for recreation, erosion control and flood control is also considered.

“The more benefits, the better,” he said.

Other considerations for financing might be that if there is a reservoir with a minimum pool for recreation or fisheries, the WWDC could choose to apply the grant loan to just the portion that’s irrigation water to make it more affordable.

“Regardless of how it’s financed, when the project is done the sponsor is expected to take over ownership and be responsible for operation, maintenance and replacement cost,” noted Mead.

Any application that comes into the division office starts with a Level 1 watershed study, which identifies a long list of reservoirs to see if there’s a need for storage in the area. Level 1 also puts together an irrigation rehabilitation plan and gathers natural resource information, incorporating it into a GIS database.

Mead says the advantages to gathering that information in the first step is that fatal flaws in alternative sites can be quickly identified, such as wetlands, geology, big game habitat or sage grouse. It also prepares the project for the NEPA process. He says the irrigation rehabilitation is provided as a service to landowners, who can have a consultant identify needs, problems or fixes to the irrigation systems.

“It brings the landowners together, which is what you’ll need to get a reservoir built,” said Mead.

Level 2, Phase 1 emphasizes hydrology, with modeling that incorporates irrigated lands, historical diversions and return flows to identify if there are water shortages, and what water might be available to store. It also looks at environmental impacts, geology, the cost/benefit of the project and preliminary plans.

“When we go from the watershed to the Level 2 study, we go from 35 to 40 identified alternatives to two or three that will be carried on to the Level 2, Phase 2 stage,” said Mead.

Level 2, Phase 3 requires an entity to be formed, and where the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement take place and permits are put together, along with the plans, specs and design of the project.

And then, Mead said, Level 3 is “when the dirt, hopefully, flies.”

“From Level 1 on through we’re talking with landowners and bringing them along, addressing concerns and giving information,” said Mead of the planning. “The last thing we want to do is build a reservoir of which the landowners aren’t in favor.”

From 1979 through 2011 there have been about 17 rehabilitation projects take place through the Dams and Reservoirs Division, and there have been about eight enlargement projects. New construction has included the Tie Hack Reservoir built in the late ‘90s for the town of Buffalo, Roach Gulch for the Greybull Valley Irrigation District and High Savery Reservoir, which is state-owned and holds about 22,000 acre-feet of water. The state contracts with the Savery/Little Snake River Water Conservancy District for water from High Savery.

Today the district has 12 projects in the works. For rehabilitation, it’s working with the city of Rawlins on the Atlantic Rim Reservoir, which has seepage problems which are being addressed with a liner and an underdrain. Similar projects are ongoing in the Middle Piney Reservoir and Cottonwood Lake on the west side of the Wyoming Range.

“They’re both built on ancient landslides, and seepage comes with landslides. We’re working with the Forest Service and local landowners to rehabilitate and keep up that storage, because Middle Piney is 3,500 acre-feet and has a pre-compact right of 1919,” explained Mead. “To take that dam out would change the hydrograph, because it regulates the creek and has taken out their problems with flooding. It’s a win-win to get it done.”

In addition to a pair of enlargement projects in southwest Wyoming, new storage in western Wyoming might include the Sublette Creek Reservoir, which would hold 5,000 acre-feet for the Cokeville Development Company. It would sit on Sublette Creek but would be fed by water out of the Smith Fork.
New development also includes the Little Snake River Alternative Storage near Baggs, which is narrowing in on a site on the west fork of Battle Creek. That project would include 10,000 acre-feet of water.

Other projects include municpal water for the city of Sheridan, enlarging reservoirs below Hamilton Dome in the Bighorn Basin and proposed new storage in the Nowood River Basin as well as near Shell Creek near Shell.

“Many of these projects are in Level 2, Phase 1,” said Mead. “There are some good opportunities, and I’m optimistic we’ll start to permit some of these, and hopefully have some new storage on the ground in the next few years.”

All projects through the WWDC Dams and Reservoirs Division can be reviewed online at Christy Martinez 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..

Casper - On June 5 the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and the Select Water Committee revised the criteria under which the Commission assists with water projects in the state.
    In an address at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association summer meeting on June 6, WWDC Director Mike Purcell said the old system did produce results.
    “Under the old criteria the best financing plan was a 75 percent grant and a 25 percent loan at four percent for 50 years,” he said. “We had some successes and built some dams, such as with the Greybull Valley Irrigation District and the High Savery Dam in Carbon County.”
    However, Purcell said Gov. Freudenthal and the Commission had an interest in moving faster with development. “If we were going to build more construction projects we had to come up with better terms,” said Purcell. “As good as the old ones were, we weren’t getting the job done.”
    He says a key component of the new terms are partnerships. “The Commission and Select Water Committee are willing to work with water users to construct additional storage projects in the state,” he said.
    According to Purcell, numerous storage opportunities still exist in Wyoming. “In the Green River of Wyoming water is flowing out of our state to housewives in Arizona. The Big Horn Basin has an incredible amount of water. In the Upper Colorado we were worrying about downstream commitments with the drought, but there’s water there for development. We’re entitled to storage water that we haven’t been using.”
    Purcell said he thinks the only basin in the state without storage opportunities is the Snake River Basin around Jackson.
    “The best partner on a storage project is agriculture, because ag always needs water,” he continued. “If agriculture can show a purpose and need for the water, that makes it easier for us to get through the federal clearances to build. We need their help as we go through the federal permitting process – a process not for the weak at heart.”
    In addition, Purcell said he wants “peace in the valley” when storage projects are planned. “No one wants to hear me say I’m from state government and I’m here to help. We need water users to promote peace to get the storage facility completed. If the valley doesn’t want the storage project, we’re not going to get it done because federal permitting pays more attention to dissenters.”
    Describing the process that the new terms support, Purcell said a baseline planning effort will define storage opportunities. “After that we’ll look at watersheds to find storage and water management opportunities, then we’d like to see water users come together and seek feasibility studies for various reservoir sites before we would prepare a joint feasibility study,” he said.
    If the project is deemed a good investment, water users and the WWDC will sign a memorandum of understanding and the state will take the lead role in designing the facility and obtaining permits.
    “Should there be a requirement for some water to go to mitigation, the state will pay for that portion of the water,” noted Purcell.
    In return, the water users would form an irrigation district. “They also need to be willing to pay a reasonable price for the water, and agree to operate and maintain the dam and reservoir,” he explained.
    Even as he promoted new storage opportunities, Purcell cautioned, “The state has invested in storage facilities and I’m proud to say they did, but at the same time there has never been a call for any water we have in those facilities and that brings problems.
    “Storage without use is not a solution. Various compacts and decrees mention storage throughout, but our entitlements are for consumptive use or diversions. It is the use that preserves our water, not storage. Storage promotes use, but storing it is not using it and that’s why we need partnerships – people on the ground as good stewards of storage water and the facility we construct.”
    Besides water rights, Purcell said storage without use accustoms societies to full reservoirs. “They like the flat-water recreation and they like the flows and fisheries below the dams,” he said. “So when we do find a use for that water, it gets harder to put it to beneficial use because those that have built cabins on the water’s edge don’t want to see the levels fluctuate and the fisheries may not be as good as before.”
    “We think these terms are more favorable than what we had on the table before,” commented Purcell. “Come to us to be partners. If you go from a direct-flow irrigation operation to a storage operation, your life will change, and I believe for the better.”
    Purcell said he hopes people will participate in reservoir construction. “I think it’s a good thing because it can supply water through July and perhaps August, even though users will be held to their entitlement earlier in the year.”
    “Another beauty of storage is you can always not call your water through the reservoir,” he continued. “In a good May you may not need direct-flow water, so you can store it for the benefit of all in July and August. That enhances the value of a storage reservoir and increases the amount of late season water you can all have.”
    “If we’re going to develop storage projects that serve our citizens it’s got to be through a partnership and it will be state money and state work and irrigation district and water users’ hard work to get that accomplished,” concluded Purcell. “We’ve set a playing field that will at least be affordable to some. We’re trying something new because what we were doing before wasn’t working.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant 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..