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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories




Restoring Riparian Areas Improves Trout Fishery -
The Squaw and Baldwin Creeks Watershed

The Squaw and Baldwin creeks' section 319 project lies in west-central Wyoming, near Lander in Fremont County. The watershed consists of approximately 51.7 square miles, including a 13-mile stretch of Squaw Creek (a tributary of Baldwin Creek) and a 17-mile section of Baldwin Creek. Each section extends from the point where Baldwin Creek leaves federal property (managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service) to its confluence with the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River, north of Lander. Land ownership is primarily private, interspersed with state-leased properties. The properties include ranches ranging in size from 500 to 2,500 acres with the larger percentage of properties consisting of small ranchettes and subdivisions in the populated fringes of Lander city. A portion of Squaw Creek traverses the Lander city limits, including high school and elementary school properties.

Squaw and Baldwin creek valleys were settled, along with the town, in the 1800s. At the time, these streams supported riparian vegetation, healthy fish, and abundant wildlife habitats. Residents report seeing many beaver dams and enjoying excellent brown trout fishing as recently as 50 years ago. Sometime during these early years, water was diverted from the streams and used to irrigate hayland adjacent to the stream channels.

Riparian areas decline

The streambanks and overflow channels gradually lost the natural diversified riparian vegetation they once had through excessive grazing by livestock and burning and clearing for agriculture, along with the urban sprawl of subdivisions. Gone were the beaver dams, and with them, most of the trout. Channel alterations, such as cutting through meanders, facilitated further deterioration of the channel area over time. Improper irrigation wastewater return and poor irrigation water management in the channel vicinity further eroded the two streams.

Seasonal high water, resulting from melting valley snowpack and snow on the northern slopes of the Wind River Mountains, flushes the channels with high volumes and velocities of water. Tremendous amounts of sediment are washed from raw banks and channels into these streams, then into the Popo Agie River system, which in turn, dumps sediment into the Wind River and eventually into Boysen Reservoir.

The North and Middle Forks of the Popo Agie River are both important trout streams and run clear even through much of the high water season. Squaw and Baldwin creeks, though they contribute little water to the river system, totally cloud the water with tremendous sediment loads.

The Squaw/Baldwin creeks watershed has been identified as the single greatest contributor of silt and associated contaminants to the Popo Agie River. Their sediments damage Popo Agie trout fishery by covering important food sources and smothering fish eggs. In October of 1990, the Popo Agie Conservation District received the first of two grants from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Water Quality Division (DEQ) and EPA under Section 319 to reduce nonpoint source pollution in Squaw and Baldwin creeks.

Correcting grazing and irrigation practices

The Popo Agie Conservation District leads the project in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), landowners, City of Lander, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, and Fremont County Weed and Pest District. Lander Valley High School, Northside Elementary School, Teton Science School, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Boy Scouts of America are also involved in information and education portions of the project.

The project goal is to reduce nonpoint source pollution in Squaw and Baldwin creeks while correcting resource-related problems in the riparian areas. Conservation practices have been installed and land users are implementing total resource management systems. The project installed best management practices (BMPs) to prevent streambank and channel erosion and to improve grazing and irrigation management adjacent to riparian zones. In addition, the project provides an invaluable educational vehicle to teach students and the public about nonpoint source pollution and gives hands-on experience in working with these practices.

To date, approximately 18 miles of streambank have been treated with BMPs such as riparian fencing, plantings, water gaps, streambank stabilization, irrigation water control structures and pipelines, grade stabilization structures, pasture and hayland management, planned grazing systems, and irrigation water management. These practices address problems such as overgrazing, grazing in riparian areas, and irrigation water application and runoff.

As many as 25 landowners participated under the initial grant, including the Education/Demonstration site behind Lander Valley High School; and 16 landowners have contracted with the District in the second grant. Of these, 12 contracts have been completed with four in progress. The Popo Agie Conservation District offers participants a 60 percent cost-share assistance grant from DEQ and/EPA; 25 percent from District funds, and 15 percent from landowner contributions.

Signs of success

Monitoring by the District, Lander Valley High School Students, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and others have demonstrated numerable accomplishments. Examples include an increase in pollution-intolerant macroinvertebrates with a corresponding decrease in pollution-tolerant macroinvertebrates. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department reports a dramatic improvement in the brown trout population.

The observation that Squaw Creek no longer runs red is evidenced by water sampling reports. Total suspended solids have decreased an average of 38 percent during the years 1993 into 1996. Community awareness has generated interest in additional partnerships and has facilitated the locally led conservation effort.

CONTACT: Phil Ogle
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
(307) 777-5622

Increasing Livestock Grazing on Plateaus -
Water Development for Loco Creek

The 1992 Wyoming Water Quality Assessment (305b) report listed Loco Creek's coldwater fishery as threatened by sediments and high temperatures. Livestock grazing and road development were the suspected causes of the impairments. With the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and livestock grazing permittees determined to improve conditions, the Little Snake River Conservation District organized a project to address these nonpoint sources of pollution with a section 319 grant and funding from BLM.

Disturbed streambanks

Loco Creek flows into Savery Creek, which is a tributary to the Little Snake River. Its watershed, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains in southcentral Wyoming, is comprised of high plateaus and 11 miles of steep canyon created by Loco Creek. The plateaus are roughly 8,000 feet above sea level and the canyon floor is at an elevation of approximately 6,700 feet. Average annual precipitation for the area is 14 inches, and mountain shrub and sagebrush/grassland vegetation types predominate.

Land ownership within the watershed is 58 percent federal, 34 percent private, and 8 percent state. The Morgan-Boyer is a Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment almost totally within the watershed. It consists of a single pasture with few water developments.

Five permittees run cows and calves in the allotment, another permittee runs sheep, and an additional 12,000 sheep are herded through the allotment on their way to and from their mountain pastures (for spring and summer grazing). The sheep driveway crosses the lower end of Loco Creek. Livestock move to the canyon for shelter, shade, and water during hot periods and do not return to the plateaus. The result is overgrazed riparian vegetation and disturbed streambanks.

Solar-powered fences

The Little Snake River Conservation District and its partners formed a coordinated resource management group to help set priorities and coordinate various activities.

Solar-powered electric drift fences and two water developments were completed under a riparian improvement demonstration grant to increase livestock use of the plateaus. Additional funds were needed for water developments to provide adequate water on the approximately 18-square-mile watershed, and to complete other proposed activities. The Conservation District received a section 319 grant to continue these improvements. The partners then constructed five additional water developments on the plateau, and divided the canyon bottom into three riparian pastures, by fencing and the use of natural topographic breaks. They also used prescribed sagebrush burns on portions of the plateau and canyon bottom to improve the forage base and increase herbaceous vegetation cover.

Next, they installed small in-stream structures to help control flows, increase bank water storage, and provide habitat for a beaver population. A plan to introduce beaver was abandoned, however, because the recovering riparian environment was not yet suitable and because beavers were likely to come from surrounding watersheds once suitable habitat was available.

The project also included moving a portion of the canyon access road away from the stream and installing a culvert at a washed-out drainage crossing. The installation of water bars and drainage control measures on the road helped limit runoff to the stream. An information and education component ensured that other landowners and interested members of the public would understand the project and its results.

Taxa richness increases

A variety of monitoring methods have been employed by both the BLM and the Conservation District to evaluate success of the best management practices (BMPs). These monitoring methods included chemical water quality sampling, aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling, measuring stream channel cross sections, streambank well monitoring, riparian vegetation monitoring, and photo points. With the exception of chemical water quality, monitoring indicates that the project's goals are being reached and its BMPs have improved Loco Creek's aquatic and riparian environments.

Results of water chemistry analysis showed no apparent change in quality from previous monitoring data, but it is always difficult to detect changes in chemical water quality with limited samples taken over a short time period. Other monitoring methods indicate greater improvement.

Aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling has been part of the monitoring plan for this 319 project since 1994. Generally, all biologic indices evaluated indicate an improving trend in the aquatic macroinvertebrate community health. Total taxa richness statistically increased from 26 in 1994 to 34 in 1996.

As part of the initial BMP implementation and monitoring, the BLM established eight monitoring locations on Loco Creek to evaluate width to depth ratios. Monitoring results from 1996 indicate that five of the eight cross sections have shown reductions in width to depth ratios, indicating channel deepening and greater stability.

Eight streambank water wells were established in 1992. Wells were 5 to 10 feet deep and 10 to 100 feet from the stream channel. Water well data were collected from 1993 to 1996 and indicate that the overall riparian area function, to store water and allow slow release, is improving.

Both Nebraska sedge and willow are key riparian species along Loco Creek. Density and frequency of Nebraska sedge and frequency and height of willows increased during the monitoring period from 1992 to 1996.

CONTACT: Phil Ogle
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
(307) 777-5622

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