New Fork watershed projects in review

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Small water projects in the New Fork River watershed were the focus of an update on the Level I study last Tuesday, April 25.

A group of ranchers and landowners who use the New Fork’s flow for irrigation and other needs met with the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD), Rio Verde Engineering, Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and Tetra Tech for the overview.

The overview brought local stakeholders up to date on proposed small water projects and provided an opportunity to make more, through May 1. SCCD manager Mike Henn said several more proposals emerged by Monday from people attending the meeting.

SCCD already has a list of about 70 small projects they are reviewing and prioritizing, he said.

“They run from irrigation development and rehab to developing new springs or stock water wells,” Henn said. “That’s what most of them are.”

Rio Verde’s Mike Jackson and Tetra Tech’s Ron Steg, from Jackson, reviewed where they’re at in the Level I watershed study of the New Fork River, which covers the headwaters in the Gros Ventre Wilderness to where it meets the Green in southern Sublette County.

Steg said the proposed projects follow up Tetra Tech’s inventory of the watershed with a development and rehabilitation management plan.

“We’re keeping all needs in mind, then we’ll identify potential constraints or issues affecting if or how we implement (proposed projects),” Steg said. Land ownership or agency management could influence certain projects’ viability, considering cultural resources, big game, wetlands, fisheries, public sentiment and “shovel-readiness.”

“We started late last year and we got a lot of good feedback,” Jackson added. “We’ve looked at a good variety of projects.”

Improvements to stock-water sites, new headgates and pipelines are also on the list with an overall goal to “improve these portions of the watershed,” he said.

Once proposals are reviewed, the SCCD will compile and evaluate them based on five priority, with the first being source water development, followed by storage. The third level includes conveyances, pipelines, solar platforms and windmills, for example. The fourth is irrigation and the lowest one is “environmental.”

Combining higher and multiple priorities make projects even more attractive, they explained.

“We’ll prioritize based on that matrix and go through them” as time and grant money permits, Henn said.

Between now and the end of this summer, Steg said most of his time will be spent in the field to do some “quick and dirty” surveying and conceptual engineering plans.

Jackson shared a GIS computer tool that allows public to click on the New Fork irrigation network, then a ditch, and find its history from filed water rights and pinpoint where their projects are proposed. Although it’s not quite ready for prime time, it will be made available to the public.

Henn will take the compiled projects as one funding request to the WWDC, which if it authorizes grants for watershed projects, will pay up to 50 percent of a project cost up to $35,000. “Small” refers to the cap of $135,000 per project, he said.

“For the Green River watershed, the only projects that get funded were the #5s (environmental) unless they were shovel-ready and that bump sit to #1,” he added. “We want to get far enough ahead in planning so when I’m before the WWDC, we’re ready to go.”

WWDC’s Andrew Lynch confirmed that a larger project could be broken down into phases.

The balance could be funded by the landowner or other grants; several landowners are working on projects through the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Pinedale.

The subject of reservoirs, with about 40 medium to large water-storage projects proposed in the New Fork watershed, will be discussed at a meeting later this spring.

“We want a separate meeting on that,” Steg explained. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about reservoirs if people are interested.”

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