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GOT WATER? Dewatering in 2004

The Wind River just upstream from Riverton, WY at the Riverton Valley Irrigation District diversion

Dewatering resulting from irrigation water withdrawal is one of the largest problems facing rivers and streams in the Wind River watershed. Dewatering affects not only fish populations, but all the plants and animals that rely on healthy, flowing rivers. Dewatering can even pose risks to human health. When stream flows drop low enough, water temperatures rise and dissolved oxygen levels drop. Dewatered conditions allow algae and bacteria to flourish, often making our streams unsafe for drinking or recreation.

The summer of 2004, despite aboveaverage precipitation, has been an especially bad year for dewatering. A quick look at flows on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website tells the sad story. During the 148 day period from April 1 to August 26, 2004, the Wind River near Riverton, WY flowed at less than 50 CFS (cubic feet per second) for 71 days (48% of the time). The Wind flowed less than 100 CFS for a whopping 78% of the time. The minimum stream flow needed in this stretch of the Wind to maintain a healthy fishery and aquatic ecosystem (determined through extensive study by the USFWS) is 252 CFS.

Other streams in the watershed have been equally hard hit. The Popo Agie River through Lander has been just a trickle for most of the summer. Reaches of the Little Wind River, Dry Creek, Bull Lake Creek, and many other streams have seen damagingly low flows this summer.

History tells us that flowing, living streams are not incompatible with irrigated agriculture. With efficient water use and careful water management we can keep our streams and rivers alive and maintain agricultural productivity. Wind River Alliance seeks to educate watershed residents about the extent of dewatering in the Wind River watershed and help identify and work toward solutions to this serious problem.

Check Wind River watershed stream flows on the web at: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/wy/nwis/current/?type=flow