Current Edition

current edition

Water Quality

“It is our intention now to encourage everyone involved in agriculture, recreation, power development, logging, mining, and such to not spend another dollar in the Wood River Valley,” wrote Idaho agriculture groups to the Sun Valley Chambers of Commerce in response to the chambers awarding Western Watersheds Project (WWP) the title of “Environmental Group of the Year.”
The award given to WWP is a part of the Wood River Valley Community awards, which exist to honor community members for their work in improving the valley’s quality of life. In a press release announcing the award recipients, the chambers stated that Jon Marvel and WWP have worked “to restore riparian habitat on public lands severely damaged by livestock grazing.”
“We take serious exception to that statement,” wrote the organizations, which include Western Legacy Alliance, Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Idaho Water Users Association, Idaho Recreation Council, Idaho Wool Growers, New Mexico Stockgrowers and the National Public Lands Council.
The chambers also said, “WWP has transformed the way the State of Idaho handles its land leases- requiring the state to have free market auctions that give conservation groups equal opportunity to bid against public lands ranchers.”
“Over the last 15-plus years, WWP has made it their sole mission to rid the public lands of livestock and the ranchers that own them, thus, seriously undercutting the multiple use concepts that public lands are based on. In Mr. Marvel’s own words as a U-Haul trailer drove by a range tour, ‘I hope that is another broke rancher leaving the Valley.’ At another time, in explaining his vitriolic hatred of ranchers, Mr. Marvel infamously likened himself to the Army in the 18th century handing the Native Americans blankets that they knew to be infected with Small Pox,” the groups explained to the chambers, asking, “Is this the type of individual or organization that the Wood River Valley chambers wish to commend?”
“Many of us have held our annual conventions or other major events at the Sun Valley Lodge for years, bringing significant revenue to your economy annually. While many of our members have been hesitant to come to the Wood River Valley, we have used the rationale that WWP’s motives and destructive agenda were not supported by the businesses that we frequent. Apparently we were wrong,” reads the letter.
The groups said that, by choosing to honor WWP as the recipient of the award, the chambers “seriously undercut” the value that grazing livestock, and other uses, provides to the land.
“Given the recent fires that have threatened your valley, the value of grazing in reducing fuel loads buildup should serve as one example. Further, by recognizing WWP as an ‘environmental’ group you falsely categorized them with groups that truly are about on-the-ground conservation. WWP would be much more honest if they chose to call themselves a for-profit, political obstructionist group. Most people view a true environmental group as one that spends time and money working on the land and with people to make things better for everyone, i.e. The Nature Conservancy,” the letter reads.
The groups said it is now their intention to encourage everyone involved in agriculture, recreation, power development, logging, mining and such to not spend another dollar in the Wood River Valley.
“Apparently, our contribution to your economy, or even your dinner plates, amounts to nothing in the eyes of the local business,” they said, giving as an example the “Trailing of the Sheep Festival,” a community-based, economic event highlighting the culture and heritage of the sheep industry in the West. “By commending WWP on a job well done, it would appear that the value you place on this community, tourism-generating festival is negated due to the fact that WWP specifically targets the people who own sheep and have worked their entire lives as shepherds of the range.”
Christy Hemken 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..

Worland – “It has always been a challenge for semi-arid states across the West to determine how they designate what types of recreational activities our waters can support,” stated Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank at WESTI Ag Days in Worland on Feb. 19.

“We protect our waters for primary and secondary contact,” she said. “The E. coli standard means that the higher the use, the less E. coli should be in the water. It’s a risk management stamp.”

Frank went on to say that the standard is not a guarantee for anyone’s health or safety.

“It does not guarantee that if a water body meets the standard that someone won't get sick. All it says is that if there is a higher level of emersion activities where someone might ingest the water, there is a higher chance of getting sick if there is E. coli in the water,” she commented. 

Accurate classification

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) Water Quality Division Administrator made a final determination regarding designated use changes for primary and secondary classification of contact recreation for streams in Wyoming.

Without the DEQ changes, the standard of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to designate all waters under primary use, unless proven otherwise.

“There is what is called a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that everything is fishable and swimmable under the Clean Water Act until we demonstrate it’s not,” Frank explained.

To demonstrate that it’s not, an attainability analysis must be completed, illustrating that someone went to the site and collected information to find out if the area can support the indicated uses.

“If that first designation is not right, then all other decisions are going to be wrong. We are going to imply the wrong standard, and we are probably going to invest resources inaccurately,” she said.

New model

DEQ realized that processing countless attainability analyses to correct designations throughout Wyoming would become a very difficult, expensive process, so they designed a categorical process using geographic information system (GIS) data and a set of criteria to develop a better system of recreational use classification.

Factors such as location, stream flow levels and designated contact use were built into the model to help designate streams.

“In our conversations with DEQ, we thought it was a great idea,” Frank noted.

However, there was some concern from the conservation districts about how DEQ would ground-truth the model, or verify its accuracy, especially with limited staff.

“Conservation districts started working on getting correct information to make sure that water bodies are classified to their true capability to serve for primary or secondary contact recreation,” Frank commented. “We know we want to make sure this is a defensible, science-based approach.”

Site data

Eight hundred randomly selected sites were distributed amongst the districts and employees collected data over four months.

“I have pictures of conservation districts folks who had to lease horses and horse trailers to go up into the wilderness in Teton County. They were all over,” she commented.

Review of the site inspections revealed that the DEQ model is about 75 percent accurate, a significant improvement over the EPA’s standard designation system.

“Assuming everything is primary means about 25 percent of our waters are probably classified correctly and 75 percent are classified incorrectly. Under the model, we’ve flipped that,” she explained, adding that conservation districts efforts saved taxpayer time and money.

EPA approval

DEQ submitted the model to the EPA for consideration, but Frank remarked, “The environmental community out-cried that they were not included in the process, despite the fact that there were several public notices and opportunities to comment.”

A formal public meeting was hosted by DEQ to discuss the model this past fall, and comments were collected.

“We are waiting for DEQ to finish their response to comments from the hearing last fall. They are going to resubmit it to EPA for approval, and we are going to back them up 100 percent on it,” she continued.

Although she admitted that the model isn’t perfect, its accuracy is much better than the current EPA standard, and she trusts that the groundwork from the districts has provided scientific and defensible data to back up stream recreational use designations.

Further verification

The process for individual site verification will also still be available if EPA accepts the model. Therefore, if an individual disagrees with a certain classification, they can still go through the attainability analysis process.

“Folks may go to the DEQ website, pull up their place to look at the water bodies and say that it’s wrong. We can still do a site-specific analysis, and there is a process to submit that information,” she said.

An interactive map can be found on the DEQ website and specific bodies of water can be selected to determine both their classification and the listed reasons for the designated classification. Further information about how water bodies are classified can also be found at the site.

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..

Cheyenne – After a process that started several years ago, on Sept. 1, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released the revised technical Categorical Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) for recreation that identifies low flow channels in Wyoming that are not used for swimming or similar water contact activities.

“This analysis is a big step toward ensuring that our streams have the appropriate protections for our citizens,” said Kevin Frederick, water quality administrator. “DEQ is confident that the revised designations will help the department better manage Wyoming’s surface waters and ensure that the uses of those waters are adequately protected.”

The revised analysis incorporates public feedback received prior to and during a public hearing in Casper, on Sept. 16, 2015. Since the project began in 2009, DEQ has improved the analysis based on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and public feedback received through informal feedback, three written comment periods, a public meeting and an administrative hearing.

“DEQ sincerely appreciates the public’s participation in the development and revision of this analysis. Public comments have helped clarify the intent and improve the scope of the analysis,” added Frederick.

Public comments

Last September’s hearing brought a wide audience and extensive comments. During the comment period on the UAA, 80 written comments and 30 verbal comments were received prior. “We’ve been working on this for quite a while,” said Lindsay Patterson of DEQ. “We’ve worked with EPA, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) and other users to develop the UAA to distinguish between primary and secondary recreation uses.”

Patterson noted that the resulting model accurately predicts conditions on streams 95 percent of the time.

“The UAA is very conservative,” she said. “It designates more water for primary contact use than would be designated when in the field looking at conditions.”

Patterson continued, “It’s a science-based approach and a big improvement on the previous system, where all water – regardless of suitability and capability – would be designated as primary recreation use.”

Changes

With the public comment taken into account, Patterson and Frederick noted that several changes have been made in the model to reflect concerns.

“We certainly appreciate the input we received from members of the public,” he said.

In the changes, first and foremost, Frederick noted that Class One waters were withdrawn from the analysis. Class One waters include waters in wilderness areas, national parks and the Fish Creek Watershed near Wilson. Other streams and river that are designated as class one include portions of the Snake River, Green River, Wind River, North Platte River, Sand Creek, Middle Fork of the Powder River, North Fork and South Forks of Tongue Rivers, Sweetwater River, Encampment River, Clarks Fork River, Granite Creek.

Additionally, waters in Indian Country were withdrawn from the analysis, as were Wyoming and scenic rivers.

“It’s also important to note that we have also revised and updated the UAA worksheet to better inform and assist members of the public in asking DEQ to reconsider a designation,” Frederick added.

If members of the public disagree with a classification, the worksheet, which is available on DEQ’s website, can be filled out, and the public can request the designation be changed.

Keith Guille, Wyoming DEQ public information officer, says, “We’re not done. This is an ever-evolving document. If there are areas that the public sees should be primary, not secondary, they can request re-classification.”

Stream miles

In the August 2014 UAA, 27,598 miles of stream were designated as primary recreation contact, or 24 percent of Wyoming waters. Waters designated as secondary contact amounted to 87,775 miles, or 76 percent of stream miles.

The revised analysis includes 21,249 miles of primary recreation contact waters and 82,986 miles of secondary contact.

Waters removed from the analysis in the September 2016 revision include 8,059 miles of Class One waters, four miles of Wild and Scenic waters and 3,172 miles of waters in Indian Country.

Eighteen percent of Wyoming streams are designated for primary recreation contact, and 72 percent are designated for secondary contact.

Next steps

According to DEQ, the public will be given 60 days to review this final analysis and can appeal designations to the Environmental Quality Council.

The revised designations will then be submitted to the EPA for approval. Individuals are encouraged to work with DEQ to modify recreational designated uses, where appropriate, at specific sites after the Recreation UAA has been submitted.

“We need to remember that this is not a designation in the sense of drinking water,” Frederick said. “This is for recreation, and that has been confused in the media. Anytime anyone is out recreating, they shouldn’t be consuming the water. It’s important that people realize recreation waters are not for consumption.”

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..

Streams across Wyoming are classified based on their use by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). That use dictates water quality standards that must be upheld before waters are classified as impaired.

In an attempt to streamline the process for designating waters, in 2009, DEQ began an effort to collect data and develop a model to designate streams across the state for either primary or secondary recreational use. The model, called the Categorical Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) will be undergoing a final public hearing in September, and Wyoming’s agriculture and conservation organizations encourage producers to get involved and understand the impacts of this analysis.

“The UAA is our effort to appropriately assign designated uses to stream channels in the state to identify areas that are used for swimming or high intensity contact with the water versus stream channels where people have little contact with the water,” explains Lindsay Patterson, DEQ surface water quality standards supervisor.

After spending nearly six years developing the UAA, Patterson notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote a letter to DEQ requiring them to have a final, transcribed public hearing before the UAA could be approved for use.

Concerns

DEQ Public Information Officer Keith Guille says, “We certainly understand that the public has concerns about what this means to them and waters that they may or may not recreate in. There was a lot of analysis done, but if we missed something or didn’t get something right, we want to know. We can review it and see if a water needs to be changed.”

“It is important for a lot of stakeholders that we assign the appropriate expectations for our waters,” Patterson explains.

If waters are appropriately designated, she says Wyoming DEQ is able to protect or clean up waters to an appropriate standard that is also realistic.

“Part of the effort is to make sure we are directing resources appropriately and we aren’t overregulating water quality,” she says. “We want to regulate water based on how that water is actually used.”

Guille notes that about 93 percent of the waterways that are being changed to secondary contact use have a mean annual flow of less than three cubic feet per second – which is minimal.

“It would be difficult to immerse oneself in those waters or recreate in them,” he said. “The majority of the streams that are being designated as secondary use under the UAA model are not heavy-flow streams.”

The standards in place on water bodies are based on their use. For E. coli, the standard for primary waters is 126 colony forming units (CFUs). For secondary waters, the standard is 630 CFUs. Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank mentions that the difference between the two reflects the difference in waters capable of supporting immersion type activities compared to low-flow waters that cannot support those uses.

“We should direct our resources toward water bodies where there are potential human health concerns rather than treating all waters across the board the same,” Frank adds. “Secondary contact waters are still regulated to a standard appropriate for uses and potential risk of ingestion.”

She comments, “This is about accurately designating waters and reflecting the uses that water can support.”

Drinking water

Another concern that the public might not understand, Guille says, is that recreational-designated uses are not related to drinking water standards.

“This is about recreation,” he explains. “None of these surface waters are ones that we say people should drink without being treated. Drinking water standards are separate.”

“We are very confident in the work we have done,” Guille says.

Continued input

Guille also adds that the analysis provides a starting place for designation of streams statewide.

“We are talking about literally thousands of waters, and if they were all done individually, a UAA would have to be done on each of them, and each would have to go through a rule making process,” says Frank. “If they were done individually, it would overwhelm DEQ.”

Patterson adds, “There is a process that provides for an individual water’s designation to be changed. Anyone at any time can petition the agency for a change – either to restore primary contact use or to drop to secondary contact.”

Public comments

A final public hearing on the UAA will be held on Sept. 16 in Casper at the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission beginning at 5:30 p.m.

After several years of development, comments and public meetings, Frank says, “We think DEQ already did an adequate job on the public input process. This process has gone on for several years.”

“We need people to show up at this meeting to make sure the model is upheld and we designate waters appropriately,” she continues.

Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna notes, “Some have weighed in to say even streams in wilderness areas have a chance of being primary contact because people may jump in and take a bath when they are in the backcountry. Just because a stream is close to a public road doesn’t mean they are a primary contact water.”

Franks adds, “The model will not be 100 percent accurate, but we know that it is over 75 percent accurate. If people can demonstrate primary contact recreation, the UAA process is fairly simple, so waters can be changed. We need to make sure we are designating water bodies appropriately so they can support the uses they are protected for.”

Magagna and Frank emphasized that not over-designating waters is important to responsibly utilizing resources.

Those wishing to provide comments prior to the public hearing can submit them in writing to David Waterstreet, Watershed Section Manager, 122 West 25th Street, Herschler Building 4-W, Cheyenne, WY 82002 or by fax at 307-777-5973.

History of the Use Attainability Analysis

Prior to 2009, Lindsay Patterson, DEQ surface water quality standards supervisor, says that DEQ began receiving inquiries and interest in appropriately designating recreational uses on waters of the state.

“A lot of that interest was in making sure recreation uses were correctly assigned, so the state began collecting data from different entities to begin that process,” she says. “In 2010, DEQ and conservation districts did site-specific surveys. Over 800 surveys were completed.”

DEQ completed 150 surveys while conservation districts contributed 720 surveys that were used in the analysis.

“We used the survey data to verify the work that had been done in developing the model,” Patterson adds.

After the surveys were completed, their model was modified, and an early draft of the UAA was sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February 2012.

“Based on their feedback, we modified the UAA quite a bit, focusing on flow and additional streams where we thought kids might have a high level of contact with the water,” Patterson notes, adding that areas near schools, picnic areas, communities, campgrounds or where children might play were designated as primary contact due to potential ingestion of the water. “We submitted a revised version to EPA in October 2012.”

Patterson adds that preliminary feedback from EPA showed that analysis was consistent with federal regulations, and at that point, DEQ began to work through their formal public process.

“We put a draft of the analysis out after we incorporated feedback from EPA in August 2013,” she says. “At that time, we began accepting formal and informal comment.”

DEQ also held a meeting in August 2013, and Patterson attended a number of conservation district regional meetings to answer questions.

Changes based on those comments were incorporated in the analysis, and another version was released in January 2014 for a 45-day formal written comment period.

“We got a handful of comments then, and we made a few minor tweaks to the UAA,” Patterson says. “We submitted it to EPA in December 2014.”

In June, EPA replied back to DEQ noting that an additional public hearing would be necessary before the UAA could be approved.

 

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..

Underwood, N.D. - In the summer of 2008, surface water monitoring equipment was installed at a feedlot near Underwood, N.D. Three gauging stations were installed to monitor nutrient levels in the runoff adjacent to the feedlot as well as further downstream.

According to a summary in the 2012 North Dakota State University (NDSU) Beef Report, “Three years of feedlot runoff monitoring at a North Dakota Discovery Farm showed that spring snowmelt is the major contributor to nitrogen loading of feedlot runoff.”

Diversion system

As a result of the initial data collection, a clean-water diversion system was constructed at the feedlot to decrease the amount of water that washed through the feedlot in the spring.

“Behind the feedlot, there is a line of trees, and there is a huge accumulation of snow in the winter in those trees. During the spring, the snow melts and most of that water would go through the feedlot and wash into the ditch,” describes Paulo Flores, nutrient management specialist at Carrington Research Extension Center at NDSU.

Flores has been on the project for the last two years and notes that the water diversion system appears to be a successful management practice.

“After the water diversion was put in place, because there is less water going through the feedlot, there are significantly fewer suspended sediments and nutrients being washed into the ditch and then into the waterway,” he says.

Although nutrient loads in the runoff are still high at the gauge station closest to the feedlot, they are reduced significantly by the time they reach the station that is furthest from the feedlot, approximately half a mile downstream.

Reduced water flow

“Today, the volume of the water that’s coming to the gauge is much smaller because all of the water that resulted from the snowmelt is being diverted around the feedlot,” he explains.

Because the volume of water has been reduced, it is able to soak into the grassy waterway, where the nutrients may then be absorbed by the soil or taken up by plants.

“We haven’t collected plant or soil samples from the waterway,” he comments, noting that the research team has not yet determined why the diminished water flow is resulting in cleaner water at the third gauge station.

Using a water diversion system to maintain uncontaminated runoff from the feedlot is especially significant for the Underwood Farm because the operation is located in a drainage that leads to the Missouri River, which is about five miles from the farm.

“We are trying to generate data that can be used in future discussions about regulations on ranches regarding water contamination, so those can be based on science and not in assumptions,” Flores remarks. “The other thing is putting some numbers on management practices that are in place on farms to measure their effectiveness on protecting water quality.”

Data collection

Water quality monitoring projects have been taking place on three different Discovery Farms in North Dakota, located in Barnes, Cass and McLean counties. Data collection includes water quality with an emphasis on nutrient loading, sediment loads, soil analysis and meteorological information.

The Underwood Farm in McLean County, located in central North Dakota, was chosen as a representation of medium-sized feeding operation in the state.

“Different producers have different situations,” Flores remarks. “But, if we have a situation where we have a lot of water coming through the feedlot, from snowmelt or from fields around the feedlot, and we can break that water movement by diverting it, I think we will see positive results regarding water quality.”

Best management practices

Water contamination from livestock production facilities is a concern in North Dakota, as well as throughout the United States. Data from the Underwood Farm and similar projects help to evaluate the effectiveness of various practices designed to reduce environmental impacts while maintaining farm profitability.

The Discovery Farm project is a collaboration of NDSU Extension, the U.S. Geological Survey, North Dakota Department of Health, North Dakota Water Commission and the farms’ cooperators.

“The idea to have water diverted around his feedlot was the farm operator’s idea. The system has been in place since 2011, and the results since then have shown that the diversion has worked pretty well,” Flores says.

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..