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Irrigation

As irrigation districts are preparing for the 2012 irrigation season, there are efforts that can be made to efficiently and effectively use water. The NRCS, irrigation districts, as well as conservation districts weighed in on how to best utilize Wyoming’s water resources.
Sprinkers and pivots
    In southeast Wyoming, Laramie County Conservation District Manager John Cochran says most of their farmland is irrigated by center pivot systems fed by ground water wells.
    “The big push down here lately is the cost of pumping,” says Cochran, noting that most pumps are electric. “We have been replacing a lot of pumps and installing variable frequency drive motors.”
    He explains that these motors reduce irrigation costs by starting the pump more slowly and only providing the pump with as much electricity as it needs, both of which reduce energy demands.
    “Of the methods of irrigation, sprinkler irrigation and pivot irrigation are pretty efficient, as long as you keep everything in proper working order,” adds NRCS civil engineering technician Al Lopez.
Other systems
    “In the Heart Mountain Irrigation District, there are quite a few sprinklers, but we haven’t seen very many yet,” comments Shoshone Irrigation District Manager Bryant Startin. “There has to be a pumping system and power in place, but for some the cost of that is still cheaper than the labor to flood irrigate.”
    Startin notes that the decreased labor needed in a sprinkler system is a driver for those producers using the systems.
    “There are still open ditches with pipe and tubes, but as far as the least amount of loss and problems with weeds, gated pipe is a good tool,” adds Startin. “I bet that 75 percent of everything we deliver here is to gated pipe.”
    Gated pipe offers other benefits to producers, including less labor and fewer problems with water fluctuation.
    Cochran also notes that other systems are available, such as underground drip, but can be costly.
    “We tried one underground drip system here that was 240 acres,” he says. “It was expensive to put in, and expensive to maintain and manage. We need to do some more perfecting on that system before it is standard.”
Equipment maintenance
    Lopez notes that, to best utilize water, maintaining equipment is very important.
    “If producers are using a gated pipe system, they want to make sure the pipe and gates are in good shape,” he says. “For center pivots, they will want to check nozzles, pumps and pipelines to make sure everything is in working order.”
    Lopez notes that by maintaining equipment properly, producers can ensure their systems are working properly and distributing water effectively.
    “At NRCS, we design those practices,” he explains, adding that NRCS also provides documents for operation and maintenance of systems at wy.nrcs.usda.gov. “On the right side of our homepage is a link for eFOTG. Section Four describes conservation practices, and under each is a page called Operation and Maintenance. If a person follows those items through the years, it will help the life expectancy of the practice.”
Crop management
    Cochran also mentions that crop rotations can help producers utilize water effectively.
    “Try to split a circle so you have a lower use crop in with a high use crop, that is helpful,” says Cochran, mentioning that water use is spread out through the year, rather than concentrated at a particular time. “For example, maybe plant half a circle in wheat, which uses a lot of water in fall, and across from that, corn, which is more of a summer annual. If farmers are short on having enough water to keep everything going, that works well.”
    He adds that keeping track of soil moisture, how much water goes on a field, and how much water a crop is using is also helpful.
    “It’s kind of like keeping a checkbook – keep track of money in and money out,” he explains, noting that taking soil moisture samples or crop stress measurements can help determine how much water is needed.
    “It’s also like guessing the weight of your steers,” he adds. “If you never actually weigh and see how close you are, you’ll never get any better.”
Bigger projects
    Don Britton, manager of the Wheatland Irrigation District, says district-wide, Wheatland has made efforts at conserving water.
    “Starting a few years ago through the Wyoming Water Development Commission, we began working on a conservation study,” he says. “We have put in some small inflow ponds on our ditches and in our ditch system.”
    He explains that the system helps to regulate water. If there is too much in a ditch, some can be put in, or if they run short, water can be turned out. They have also been working to enlarge ditches and utilize both raised flow and actual flow gates.
    “We have quite a few new practices that we have initiated,” Britton says.
    In the Shoshone Irrigation District, Startin says, “As a district, we are in the mode of burying open ditches with pipe and using water management devices. It has been really good for us.”
    “Things are looking pretty good for this year,” adds Startin. “We are in good shape right now.”
    Saige Albert is 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..

Buffalo – In 1973, the state of Wyoming embarked on writing a statewide water plan. A number of years later in 1997, a group of people got together and decided an update was needed, so they went to the Wyoming Legislature to look at how the plan might apply across the state. 

“The Legislature told them to go ahead,” said Jodee Pring, project manager at the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO). “In 1999, they started with two plans – the Green River Basin and Bear River Basin plans were completed.”

Updates

After a number of people across the state complimented the work, water basin planning efforts were expanded across every basin in the state. 

“In 2002, the Snake/Salt and Wind/Bighorn River Basin Plans were completed. Also in 2002, the Powder/Tongue and Northeast plans were completed,” Pring continued. “In 2006, the Platte was completed.”

Then, in 2007, the WWDO completed its first framework basin plan. 

“We made a deal with the legislature that we would update these plans every few years,” Pring said. “We started these updates in 2010.”

Updates were conducted on the Green, Wind/Bighorn, Bear and Snake/Salt River Basin Plans from 2010-14, and the Platte River Basin Plan will be complete in 2016. 

Powder and Tongue Rivers

“That brings us to the Powder/Tongue and Northeast plans,” Pring commented, noting that the agency was awaiting the resolution of Montana v. Wyoming and North Dakota prior to beginning planning in the Powder/Tongue River Basin. “We are comfortable with where that case stands, and we are starting our update on the Powder/Tongue and Northeast River Basin Plans.”

The Wyoming Legislature appropriated $375,000 to complete the update, and an additional $275,00 has been allotted to do a groundwater study. 

“The surface and groundwater studies will be done at the same time.  The  Wyoming State Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey will complete the groundwater portion of the study,” Pring explained. “They have done the groundwater plans for our other river basins, as well.”

She further noted that a plethora of information on the planning efforts is available at the WWDO website. 

Plan complications

Pring noted that the Powder/Tongue and Northeast River Basin Plan Update does have some additional aspects that have not occurred with other plans. 

“We are going to do the same things we have done with many others,” she explained. “We will update demand projections and current basin water use.”

She continued, “We are going to do a couple of things as part of a separate spreadsheet model update.”

For example, WWDO will analyze  the Hydrologic Unit Code-12 (HUC) hydrology  and do an annual and peak runoff estimate for each of those watersheds. HUC-12 is a sequence of numbers used  to identify a hydrological feature. 

“This  analysis will give us an idea of the water available for potential reservoirs,” Pring mentioned. “As most people already know, the Governor’s Water Strategy hopes to build 10 reservoirs in 10 years, and we are concentrating on also looking to see if we might be able to build reservoirs in these watersheds.”

Consultants will also take a closer look at environmental  use and recreational use and how those uses fit with traditional uses, as well. 

“We know there is a lot of competition between those uses, but often they are complimentary,” Pring said. “We want to see how those uses play out.”

Watershed protection

Finally, Pring mentions that an additional task to be performed will be called the Watershed Fire Information task.   

“This was prompted from Director Harry LaBonde’s involvement with the Governor’s Task Force on Forest Health,” Pring said. “They issued a report and recommended developing  cross-jurisdictional watershed protection plans for municipalities relying heavily on forested watersheds.”

After catastrophic fires in watersheds providing Denver, Colo.’s water, LaBonde suggested that forested watersheds should be analyzed for their vulnerability to fire. 

Looking forward

Interviews for a consultant to head up the project occurred at the beginning of May. After selecting a consultant, a series of meetings will be held to gather stakeholder information. 

“In September and October will have three open houses across the basin,” Pring explained. “We will send notices and advertise those open houses.”

Throughout the process, six additional meetings will be held to ensure the consultant is on the right track. 

“We will also have three more open houses and ask for involvement before the plan goes into final draft,” she said. “Stay tuned for more information.”

Pring spoke at the Powder/Tongue River Basin Advisory Group meeting on April 21.

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.. 

Casper – In summary of the 2009 water year and the state’s current storage levels, Bureau of Reclamation Wyoming Area Manager John Lawson says it’s obvious to anyone living in the state that Wyoming had a good water year.
    “It’s been fairly dramatic,” he says of the last two above-average runoff years in the North Platte, Shoshone and Wind River basins.
    “If you take all the reservoirs on the main stem of the North Platte River Basin, the total cumulative storage is 2.8 million acre-feet,” he notes. “At the end of irrigation season Sept. 30, 2007 we had 700,000 acre-feet in the entire system. As of Sept. 30 this year, we ended with 1.7 million acre-feet.”
    However, he cautions the numbers can turn around and go the other way just as quickly. “That’s why this business is rather interesting,” he comments. “It comes and goes so quickly, that from a management standpoint you have to always pay attention.”
    In addition, he says when storage levels start to reach capacity that can be as big of a nightmare for a reservoir operator. “We’re at a comfortable spot right now, but I don’t want a huge inflow next year. Good, but not big,” he says.
    In 2008 and 2009 the North Platte system has gained 956,000 acre-feet and 964,000 acre-feet, respectively, while the 30-year average is 733,000 acre-feet. During the drought, the system only gained 118,000 acre-feet in 2002, and only levels in the 200,000’s the following years.
    “We got the quick recovery because of snowpack, and the rain did have a bearing this year. We forecast as late as June 1 that we’d only get 770,000 acre-feet for 2009, because May was actually pretty dry, but then we ended up with 964,000 acre-feet of water. We missed it by almost 200,000 acre-feet,” he explains.
    “When you have some reservoir space, that doesn’t give you too many sleepless nights, but now we’re getting higher reservoirs, and if we have something like that occur next year – a late spring surprise – that makes it more difficult for us to outguess Mother Nature,” he says, adding his agency will be watching very closely.
    Currently Seminoe Reservoir sits at 111 percent of average, while Pathfinder is holding 146 percent of average for this time of year.
    “If we get another 960,000 acre-feet of inflow next year we’ll definitely have to release water because we won’t have the space,” says Lawson of the reservoirs, which each hold a little over a million acre-feet. “If we get the average of 700,000 acre-feet, and in a predictable fashion, that would be nice.”
    While the North Platte system was able to contain the high inflows of last spring, Buffalo Bill Reservoir, which holds inflows coming from the high country west of Cody and in Yellowstone via the north and south forks of the Shoshone River, proved to be a tricky situation in June.
    “Buffalo Bill gave us a few anxious moments in June,” says Lawson. “June 1 we forecast around 720,000 acre-feet of inflow, and we ended up with 954,000 acre-feet.”
    Once again, the forecasts were based on snowpack accumulated during the winter and spring months while the June rains increased runoff dramatically. “We started thinking about holding onto some runoff the end of May because we thought we were going to get a lot less runoff than the year before, based on snowpack levels, but then it started raining, and it kept snowing and it never got dry. We kept seeing the water coming at us,” says Lawson.
    Buffalo Bill, which holds 643,000 acre-feet, had been built up to almost 600,000 acre-feet in anticipation of irrigation season. “The inflow kept coming and we had no place to go with it. We spent June working very closely with emergency management representatives, especially in the Lovell area, because we had to release water for a three-week period around 7,000 cfs, which increased to between 8,000 and 9,000 cfs down at Lovell.”
    Regarding Boysen Reservoir, he says, “On June 1 we forecast an inflow of 480,000 acre-feet and we ended up with 803,000 acre-feet. It just started turning around that first week of June and it never stopped. I kept asking when it was going to quit.”
    Because of the dramatic increase in inflows he says the agency released water from Boysen well into the summer at a rate of 6,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), while irrigation demands only use 1,300 cfs.
    “When we were in the 2002 era the reservoir got down to 239,000 acre-feet, which was within 10 or 15,000 acre-feet of not being able to generate power,” says Lawson. “Today, at the end of irrigation season, we have 660,000 acre-feet in the reservoir.”
    Boysen Reservoir is considered full at 740,000 acre-feet. “We’re at 110 percent of average,” says Lawson.
    Concerning next spring’s forecast, Lawson says the agency becomes its own forecasters, drafting plans for above, below and average scenarios. “At this time of year all we can use is statistical information. I’ve been here for 20 years or so, and I’ve seen what happens when we have certain kinds of years. My observation is we might get a pretty good winter this year.”
    “It’s a different year every year,” notes Lawson. “We just have to sit and think about every contingency we might have to deal with. We just got done and we’re already thinking about what we’ll deal with next March.”
    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..
    Wyoming storage levels saw big benefit from the late-May spring storm that hit most of the state and the much-needed moisture has boosted crops and rangeland conditions moving into summer.
Storage levels
    Wyoming Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager John Lawson reported Buffalo Bill and Boysen reservoirs will fill and Pathfinder and Seminoe reservoirs have seen big improvements. He also says the storm increased almost all snowpack levels in the state’s basins.
    Lawson says he expects a higher-than-average runoff into Buffalo Bill for June and July. He is looking at 4,400 cubic feet per second (cfs) from the dam, which is “far above the irrigation demand.”
    Originally not expected to fill, Boysen is now expected to reach fill level. Lawson reports a release of 2,300 cfs from the reservoir and says the irrigation demand is only 1,200 cfs. Boysen’s release may move up to 3,000 or 3,500 cfs, while still retaining the ability to fill.
    “It’s good news to have this much,” Lawson says.
    An increased snow pack for Seminoe and Pathfinder reservoirs is also helping conditions. Lawson says the storm didn’t have as big of an effect on these reservoirs but with the above-average snowpack these two reservoirs will begin to see gains.
    Lawson cited National Weather Service information that reported eight inches of rain at Glendo in a five-day period and the rain increased inflows into Glendo Reservoir from 4,000 to 12,000 cfs. The influx of water filled Glendo into the exclusive flood pool; the added storage in the reservoir to catch flood flows. Releases from the flood pool later this month will assist in meeting downstream needs and Lawson says they haven’t seen these kinds of conditions for nine or 10 years. Lawson says he is also seeing similar activity on a smaller scale for Guernsey Reservoir.
    As a result, Gray Reef releases in the upper system were cut from 2,300 cfs to the minimum release of 500 cfs. Pathfinder and Seminoe outflows are also much less and outflows won’t increase again until the irrigators turn back on, which Lawson estimates won’t happen until mid-June.
    The good news keeps coming and Lawson says Pathfinder’s expected level this September is 271,000 acre feet. That compares to Sept. 30, 2007 where Pathfinder was only 17 percent full at 171,000 acre feet. Similar good news for Seminoe is expected as well with an estimated level this September at more than 400,000 acre feet.
    “This isn’t a complete recovery but it is sure welcomed,” Lawson says. “If we get a few more years like this we could be in great shape.”
    Moving into summer State Climatologist Steve Gray says we’ve had a better winter in terms of building snowpack than we have in the last eight to nine years and the cooler spring temperatures helped us hang on to the snow pack. Gray explained the state is at historical average levels but the levels are looking better than they have in a few years.
    Natural Resources Conservation Service snow-pack data indicates more than 100 percent of average snow water equivalent for all Wyoming basins as of June 3. The levels range from 133-270 percent across the state, according to the June 3 data, with an average of 132 percent as of May 26.
    Gray says the low country was having a fairly bad spring, particularly the Western part of the state, which was at only 25 percent or lower of historical averages for moisture. However, the storms at the end of May brought enough moisture to the majority of the state to get back to historical averages for spring.
    “It looks like the moisture might have come just in time to turn things around in the low country,” Gray says.
    Depending on future conditions, the moisture could mean different things for the state. Gray says the state is starting with an average spring in terms of total amount of precipitation received. “Average” may sound strange given the amount of moisture received, but Gray says historical averages from 1970 to the drought put the numbers at about average. But Gray also says in the context of the last seven to nine years of drought, the state is in good shape going into the summer season. Gray says conditions could worsen if the weather produces a string of hot, windy days but conditions may see additional improvements if Wyoming receives more spring and summer thunderstorms.
    “The summer is starting out better than we have in recent years but the true nature of it is yet to be determined,” Gray says.
    Liz LeSatz is summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..